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Commonly affected joints

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body but most commonly affects the knees, hips and fingers.

oa hand
Osteoarthritis of the hand can affect the joints closest to the fingertips, the middle joints of the fingers, the wrist, or the base of the thumb. In osteoarthritis of the fingers, nodes and other deformities are common. Illustration by: Laboratoires Servier

Knees

Knee osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common forms of osteoarthritis. The risk of developing OA of the knee increases with age, but even younger individuals can be affected by the joint disease. When a young person develops knee OA it is most often a consequence of a former knee injury. Because our knees are exposed to both our body weight and the physical strains of everyday life, the knee joint is extremely vulnerable and runs a high risk of being damaged at some point during our lifetime.

OA of the knee is becoming increasingly common, a result of obesity being a growing problem in most parts of the world. Bodyweight plays a large role in the development of OA as excess weight puts an excess load on our knees. The more weight our body has to carry, the more stress it put on our weight-bearing joints (knee, hips, ankles, etc.).

The first-line treatment for OA of the knee is education and exercise. Strengthening the muscles surrounding the knee joint is especially necessary as stronger muscles give the knee stability. In situations where the pain is more intense, painkillers and walking aids may be used as a complement to first-line treatment. In severe cases, the joint can be replaced with a prosthesis. In most cases, however, first-line treatment is sufficient for symptom relief and should be started as early as possible in the course of the disease.

In OA s of the knee, the knee may hurt, feel stiff and become swollen. It can become difficult to bend your knee properly and your ability to walk may be affected.


Hips

In OA of the hip, you usually feel pain in the groin, but since it is the joint between the femur and the pelvis that is damaged, it is not uncommon for the pain to radiate all the way down to the knee. The hip joint consists of the femoral head and the (ledskål?) and as the cartilage breaks down, the two bones in the joint begin to rub against each other which can cause pain. Suffering from hip arthritis can over time create hip stiffness and it can become difficult to get out of bed in the morning. Pain mainly occurs during movement, but over time hip pain may be present even at rest. Hip pain usually comes and goes but when it is bad it can be so strong that even sleeping is difficult.

Hip OA mainly affects older people. However, with that being said, young and middle-aged adults can also develop the disease as a result of an old hip injury, heavy physical workload under longer periods, or a congenital hip deformity. A physiotherapist can provide tailored exercises for people with OA of the hip. If you are overweight or obese, weight loss is an important step in the right direction to alleviate symptoms as the hip is also a weight-bearing joint. As with OA of the knee, education and exercise are recommended as first-line treatments. A hip replacement should only be considered when no other treatment method has helped.


Hands

OA can affect several joints in the hand but usually affects the base of the thumb and fingers. OA may also develop in the wrist, but this is less common.  Unlike OA of the knee and hip, the underlying cause of hand OA is very seldom lifestyle factors or previous injuries. In fact, heredity accounts for up to about 60–70% of OA in the joints of the fingers. As with OA of other joints, it can take several years before hand OA is noticeable and stiffness and pain usually come on slowly.

In OA of the finger joints, the fingers tend to swell up and change shape. Bony bumps may appear on the joints closest to your fingertips (also known as Heberden’s nodes) or on the fingers’ middle joints (also known as Bouchard's nodes). OA of the hand is often confused with rheumatoid arthritis and it is therefore important to get the right diagnosis from a doctor or a physiotherapist, to know what treatment is most suitable.

OA of the fingers and base of the thumb can cause difficulties in everyday life due to pain and decreased muscle strength. We use our hands for multiple purposes such as to open jars and packaging, lift, grasp, cut, and chop, so not having fully functioning hands can be both frustrating and distressing. There are specially designed hand exercises for hand OA that can relieve symptoms and improve hand strength. A variety of aids and hand supports can be bought to make everyday life easier in times when it becomes difficult to use your hands properly.

Hand OA can be operated if deemed necessary. This type of operation usually entails either removing part of or an entire bone in the joint or fusing two bones together.