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At UT Southwestern Medical Center, specialists in our Rheumatology Program take a multidisciplinary team approach to care for people with osteoarthritis. Working together, we provide personalized treatment to manage the condition as patients’ needs change in severity over time.

Expert Management of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common disorder affecting joints. It develops when cartilage –protective tissue on the ends of bones in joints – wears down over time. Osteoarthritis can cause pain and stiffness in any joint in the body but most often affects the hands, hips, knees, and spine. 

Diagnosing osteoarthritis is often difficult because symptoms can be similar to those of other diseases. Our Rheumatology Program is widely recognized as one of the nation’s leading clinical and research centers for rheumatic diseases such as osteoarthritis, and our team can help diagnose and manage this disorder.

Causes and Risk Factors of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis results from damage to the cartilage in joints. Certain risk factors can increase the risk of joint damage and osteoarthritis:

  • Wear and tear over time
  • Past injuries such as fractures, dislocated joints, or torn cartilage
  • Bone deformities that are present at birth
  • Repetitive stress from certain occupations, sports, or other activities
  • Inherited tendency
  • Obesity
  • Female sex

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

The symptoms of osteoarthritis tend to start slowly and become worse over time. Symptoms include:

  • Joint pain or tenderness
  • Joint stiffness and loss of flexibility
  • Grating or crackling sensation during movement
  • Pain with movement

Diagnosing Osteoarthritis

Our rheumatologists (specialists in diseases that affect joints, bones, muscles, and the immune system) conduct a thorough evaluation, which includes a:

  • Discussion of symptoms
  • Discussion of personal and family medical history
  • Physical exam

To confirm a diagnosis of osteoarthritis, our doctors might recommend one or more tests, such as:

  • X-ray to look for bone spurs or loss of cartilage between bones in the joint
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to provide detailed images of bones and cartilage to assess damage
  • Blood test to rule out other potential causes, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Joint fluid analysis to check for gout, inflammatory arthritis, or infection

Treatment for Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis typically worsens over time, and there is no cure. Treatment aims to relieve symptoms to help patients remain independent and active.

At UT Southwestern, our rheumatologists develop treatment plans tailored to each patient’s individual needs. Treatment options for osteoarthritis include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen for pain relief
  • Physical therapy to improve strength, balance, and range of motion
  • Exercise such as tai chi and yoga to improve movement and reduce stress
  • Corticosteroid injections into a joint to relieve pain, stiffness, and swelling
  • Referral to orthopedic surgery for arthroscopic surgery, joint replacement surgery, or surgery to realign bones