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Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is a chronic, degenerative joint disease that affects middle-aged and older adults.

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body, including:

  • Hips
  • Knees
  • Hands
  • Elbows
  • Wrists
  • Fingers
  • Shoulders
  • Neck
  • Lower back

What Causes Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is characterized by the breakdown of joint cartilage. It is not simply wear and tear, but rather chemical changes in joint cartilage (the cushioning tissue between the bones that form a joint) that cause it to break down and form bone spurs. The word osteoarthritis literally means “bony arthritis.”

Osteoarthritis may develop as a result of another condition, such as a previous injury to the joint, or excess weight that puts extra strain on the joint. Genetic factors also play a strong role in the development of osteoarthritis.

Other risk factors:

  • Aging, which does not cause osteoarthritis but increases the chances of it
  • A family history of osteoarthritis 
  • Being overweight or obese 
  • Other forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Injuries to a joint 
  • Certain jobs that repeatedly place excess strain on a joint

How is Osteoarthritis Diagnosed and Treated? 

At UC San Diego Health, we have board-certified rheumatologists who can evaluate your joint health, form a diagnosis, and assist in noninvasive management of the disease. 

Your initial evaluation may include: 

  • Joint fluid analysis
  • X-ray, MRI or ultrasound
  • Blood tests

Although there is no cure for osteoarthritis, treatments can improve your pain, your ability to function and your quality of life. 

Treatment options may include:

  • Medication, such as acetaminophen
  • Exercises to keep your joints mobile 
  • Heat and cold therapy, such as hot compresses or cold packs
  • Corticosteroid or hyaluronic acid injections

The goal of these treatments is to help keep you active. Our rheumatologist can help you decide what treatment approach or medical therapy is right for you.


Acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and analgesics are the first-line medications used to treat osteoarthritis pain.


Patients with osteoarthritis who remain active and exercise regularly have been shown to improve their physical functioning and reduce their pain over time. Exercise keeps your joints mobile and helps treat the pain itself. 

Learn about physical therapy services offered at UC San Diego Health.


  • Corticosteroid (cortisone) injections: Can be performed as often as every three months. The risks associated with these injections are actually much less than those associated with taking oral medication for arthritis pain. Corticosteroid injections help by relieving inflammation, which can be a major cause of pain.
  • Hyaluronic acid injections: These are usually administered in a series of three injections, each about one week apart. They can be repeated as often as every six months. Hyaluronic acid injections are safe, reactions are extremely rare. While they can take longer than corticosteroid injections to relieve inflammation, the relief they provide tends to last longer.

Surgical Treatment

In some severe cases, surgery may be recommended. Our orthopedic surgeons specialize in several types of procedures to treat osteoarthritis, including:

Appointments & Referrals

  • Orthopedics: 858-657-8200
  • Rheumatology (La Jolla): 858-657-6110
  • Rheumatology (Hillcrest): 619-543-6248
  • For Referring Physicians

Orthopedics Locations

La Jolla



Rheumatology Locations

La Jolla


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