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Updated 2 September 2022 | Approved By

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Osteoarthritis – Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a common type of arthritis that occurs between the joints. Over time, the tissue between the joints deteriorates and wears, including cartilage, ligaments and tendons. Osteoarthritis can lead to joint pain and stiffness, affecting your quality of life and your ability to move. According to the Australia Institute of Health and Welfare, approximately 2.2 million people are diagnosed with osteoarthritis in Australia [1]. Women and those over 45 are more likely to be diagnosed with osteoarthritis. There are various parts of the body that can be affected by osteoarthritis. As a result, there are several different types of osteoarthritis, including:
  • Knee osteoarthritis
  • Hip osteoarthritis
  • Ankle osteoarthritis
  • Osteoarthritis of the spine
  • Neck osteoarthritis
  • Finger osteoarthritis
  • Bunion
  • Shoulder osteoarthritis


Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Symptoms of osteoarthritis will vary depending on the location, severity and general health. Examples of common symptoms include:
  • Joint pain
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty exercising and moving without pain
  • Redness around the joint
  • Reduced flexibility
  • Grinding feeling between the joints when moving


Osteoarthritis Causes

Osteoarthritis is primarily caused by the wearing of the cartilage between the joints. For most healthy people, there is a balance between the creation and breakdown of cartilage between the joints. However, those with osteoarthritis will experience a net loss of cartilage due to the disruption of this balance [2].

Osteoarthritis risk factors

Certain characteristics and lifestyle choices may increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis. Examples of certain risk factors include [1]:
  • Having a family history of osteoarthritis
  • Being female
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Poor alignment of the joints
  • Previous injury or trauma
  • Repetitive tasks (e.g. running, lifting, etc.)


Osteoarthritis Diagnosis and Tests

Joint pain is one of the most common physical health problems in Australia. It’s essential to visit your GP to determine whether your symptoms could be due to osteoarthritis. They will be able to help test and diagnose this condition. Your GP will ask you various questions to help determine what type of testing is necessary.

Physical Assessment

Your GP may perform a physical assessment on the affected joint. There is no single test to diagnose osteoarthritis, so performing a physical examination will provide valuable insight into the joints’ condition. There are several tests that your GP may want to observe, including:
  • The joint’s mobility and flexibility
  • The strength of the affected area
  • Any visual signs of swelling
  • Discolouration of the skin surrounding the joint
  • Any cracking sounds during the joint’s movement


Imaging investigations, such as x-rays can provide a detailed view of any changes inside the joint. While these imaging tests can provide valuable insight, they are not enough to determine osteoarthritis. Imaging techniques can pick up regular age-related changes unrelated to the condition.

Blood Tests

Blood tests are not routinely required to help diagnose osteoarthritis. However, there are arthritis conditions that lead to similar symptoms and can be picked up with blood tests (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, gout, etc.). Laboratory analysis is performed on the blood samples to identify markers related to a specific condition. Your GP may refer you for blood tests to rule out other potential conditions.

Osteoarthritis Treatments

Treatment of osteoarthritis will vary from person to person. The treatment will help manage your symptoms and prevent the condition from worsening. Below is a list of treatments that your GP may offer.

Lifestyle Management

Changing your lifestyle habits is vital for osteoarthritis management. Maintaining a healthy weight is a priority in those diagnosed with this condition [3]. Being overweight or obese increases the likelihood of living with disability and reduced physical capacity. Other lifestyle strategies that your GP may recommend includes:
  • Healthy diet practices
  • Being physically active
  • Limiting activities that may aggravate symptoms
  • Exercises for osteoarthritis
  • Using supportive aids (e.g. crutches, compression sleeves, etc.)
  • Receiving help from support networks, such as

Pain Management

Those with osteoarthritis may experience periods where the pain becomes worse. GPs can offer pain relief medications to help ease these symptoms. There are several options for those experiencing mild to severe pain.


Your GP may advise you to see a physiotherapist about your osteoarthritis. Physiotherapists are healthcare professionals who specialise in managing physical conditions like osteoarthritis. They can show you exercises for osteoarthritis that help improve your joint flexibility and strengthen the muscle around it. Therapists may also be able to provide you with advice about other forms of exercise, including swimming, hydrotherapy and tai chi.

Medical Specialist

Those with more severe or advanced conditions may be referred to a medical specialist, such as an orthopaedic doctor. They can offer other types of procedures, such as injections and surgery (e.g. knee replacements, arthroscopes, etc.). Before undergoing these types of treatments, they may discuss the benefits and risks associated with these types of treatments.


There is currently no cure for osteoarthritis. People living with this condition experience various levels of symptoms and abilities. However, seeking treatment and following healthy lifestyle habits can help ease symptoms and improve quality of life. Many people with osteoarthritis can live happily and not require surgery.


Osteoarthritis can lead to physical limitations due to joint stiffness and pain. Depending on the location and severity of the condition, it leads to several complications, including:
  • Limited capacities to participate in physical activities, such as exercise and sports
  • Psychological and mental health problems
  • Restrictions from participating in social events, such as organised sports and travel
  • Experiencing pain
  • Losing the ability to function and live independently
  • The need for surgery and/or joint replacement(s)


Receiving quality care from highly experienced doctors is essential for a prompt diagnosis and receiving the correct medical treatment. With 24-7 MedCare, you can experience telemedicine from the convenience of your own home. Our friendly online doctors will be available 24/7 for a consultation, anytime and anywhere in Australia.

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  3. McKenzie, Suzanne, and Amanda Torkington. "Osteoarthritis: Management Options in General Practice." Australian family physician 39.9 (2010): 622-625.