How is Osteoarthritis Diagnosed?


The two main types of osteoarthritis are known as primary and secondary osteoarthritis:

  • Primary osteoarthritis is the most common type affecting the fingers, thumbs, big toes, hips, knees, and spine
  • Secondary osteoarthritis occurs when another disease or a medical condition damages the cartilage. Contributing factors include an injury or trauma to the joint, other inflammatory arthritis, e.g., rheumatoid or psoriatic, gout, or a genetic disorder such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (a group of conditions that affect the connective tissues.)

How is Osteoarthritis Treated?


Even though there is no cure for osteoarthritis, our specialists can recommend many medical and other treatments to help minimize the severity of your symptoms.


  • Topical pain medicines such as creams or gels
  • Oral analgesics, including NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to relieve pain
  • Duloxetine (Cymbalta) to treat chronic pain

Therapy and other treatments

  • Physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around the joints, increase flexibility, and reduce joint pain
  • Occupational therapy to help determine better ways to achieve everyday tasks without putting extra stress on the joint
  • Transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS), which uses a low-voltage electrical current to provide short-term relief from muscle and joint pain
  • Exercise programs to strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint
  • Local modalities such as intermittent hot and cold packs to reduce swelling and joint pain
  • Healthy diet and nutrition programs for weight, diabetes, and cholesterol management
  • Supportive devices including braces, orthotics, shoe inserts, a cane, or a walker

Nonsurgical treatments

  • Cortisone injections in the joint to temporarily relieve pain
  • Steroid injections directly to the problematic joint to help reduce inflammation
  • Hyaluronic acid or lubrication injections that help relieve pain by providing some cushion in the joint

Surgical treatments

  • Arthroscopy to diagnose and treat joint problems using a tiny tube and video camera through a minimally-invasive surgical opening
  • Bone realignment or osteotomy to reposition the bones to help shift body weight away from the damaged joint
  • Joint replacement (full or partial) to remove a severely damaged or defective joint and replace it with a new one



Arthritis is a blanket term that people use to cover all types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis. However, the main difference between the two is the cause of the disease. Osteoarthritis is caused by the wearing away of the cartilage, while other types of arthritis are considered to be autoimmune diseases where the immune system attacks the joints causing inflammation.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease caused by an autoimmune reaction where the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints by releasing enzymes that destroy the lining of the joints. RA typically affects multiple joints and can also create other symptoms such as fatigue, fever, weight loss, and inflammation in other body parts such as the eyes and lungs.

Osteoarthritis is caused by the breakdown of cartilage over time from continuous long-term use, injury, or trauma. It is localized, meaning it only affects the joint and its surrounding tissues.

When you have osteoarthritis, you will experience stiffness and pain in the affected joints. You may also experience swelling around the joint, a decrease in your ability to move as freely as you used to, and some fatigue from increased pain and not sleeping well. In more advanced stages of osteoarthritis, you may also hear clicking or cracking sounds when you move.

Although flare-ups and symptoms differ depending on the osteoarthritis stage, most people experience symptoms that last three to five days.

The pace of progression can be very different depending on your lifestyle and individual risk factors. For some people, the disease progresses slowly and may take years, even decades, to reach stage four, while others may experience acceleration and destruction of the cartilage much more rapidly.

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Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Osteoarthritis Treatment

At NewYork-Presbyterian, our renowned orthopedics specialists combine medical and surgical expertise with pioneering clinical and basic research such as regenerative therapy to help patients suffering from osteoarthritis. If you are experiencing osteoarthritis symptoms such as consistent joint pain, swelling, or stiffness, call now to set up an appointment with a NewYork-Presyberian specialist near you.