The complex process of osteoarthritic development is still unclear. Orthopaedists and orthopaedic surgeons can treat the symptoms but a causal cure is not yet possible today.
Osteoarthritic disease often takes an insidious course over many years. Wear leads to the death of individual cartilage cells which causes fissures and tears in the tissue. The cartilage becomes rough and progressively frays out even without excessive stress. Additionally, small cartilage fragments may come off and irritate the mucosa of the joint, which leads to inflammation and articular effusion. Mobility progressively deteriorates and patients suffer from increasing pain.
Moreover, bone spurs and new bone formation (osteophytes) may occur. This means that the body attempts to prevent further cartilage damage by increasing the contact surfaces of the joint, but the process is not effective.
Osteoarthritis most often targets the knee, the hip and the hands, but any other joint may be affected. Although osteoarthritis cannot be avoided, sufficient exercise without overload and maintaining normal body weight contribute to its prevention.
Factors such as excess body weight or undue stress of a joint, e.g. due to congenital misalignment or frequent heavy load bearing, may also promote the development of osteoarthritis. At increased risk are people who overload their joints regularly and extremely (e.g. competitive athletes) as well as people who have suffered injuries associated with damage inside the joint.