Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis, being widely prevalent with high morbidity and social cost.


Some authors prefer the term osteoarthrosis instead of osteoarthritis as some authors do not believe in an inflammatory cause as might be suggested by the suffix "itis". The condition is sometimes called non-erosive osteoarthritis, to differentiate it from erosive osteoarthritis, although this is considered a form of osteoarthritis .


Osteoarthritis is common, affecting ~25% of adults . The prevalence increases with age. In the age group below 50 years, men are more often affected, while in the older population the disease is more common in women. It is estimated that over 300 million people in the world suffered from OA in 2017 .

Clinical presentation

Patients present with decreased function from joint pain, instability, and stiffness . The pain is typically worsened by activity and decreases at rest; in later disease stages, it may become continuous . Many cases of radiological OA are asymptomatic and conversely clinically apparent OA may not manifest radiographic change .


The pathogenesis and pathophysiology of OA are yet to be fully understood . Despite emphasis being placed on articular cartilage degeneration, the remainder of the joint is involved including bone remodeling, osteophyte formation, ligamentous laxity, periarticular muscle weakness, and synovitis .


Osteoarthritis can be :


OA can affect both the axial and appendicular skeleton. The most common peripheral joints affected include :

Risk factors

Strong risk factors for developing OA include :

  • obesity
  • increasing age
  • female sex (particularly between the age 50 and 80)
  • family history

Radiographic features

Key radiographic features are joint space narrowing (JSN), sclerosis, and osteophytosis. If all three of these findings are not present, another diagnosis should be considered. Recently, with increasing use of MRI in the assessment of OA, other findings have been studied, such as bone marrow lesions and synovitis.

  • joint space narrowing
    • characteristically asymmetric
    • least specific: present in many other pathological processes
  • sclerosis
    • sclerotic changes occur at joint margins
    • frequently seen unless severe osteoporosis is present
  • osteophytosis
    • i.e. development of osteophytes
    • common degenerative joint disease finding
    • will also be diminished in the setting of osteoporosis
    • some osteophytes carry eponymous names, e.g. Heberden nodes, Bouchard nodes
  • joint erosions
  • subchondral cysts 
  • bone marrow lesions (BML) 
    • visible on MRI as bone marrow edema-like lesions, often adjacent to areas of cartilage damage - likely representing early OA changes
    • have been shown to correlate with joint pain and progression of cartilage loss 
    • may progress to subchondral cysts
  • synovitis
    • a non-specific finding, present also in other diseases, including inflammatory and infectious conditions 
    • present in up to 50% of the patients with OA
    • according to some authors it may be correlated with pain, disease severity and progression
Plain radiograph

Plain radiograph is the most commonly used modality in assessment of OA due to its availability and low cost. It can detect bony features of OA, such as joint space loss, subchondral cysts and sclerosis, and osteophytes. It is, however, relatively insensitive to early disease changes. Other limitations are a lack of assessment of soft-tissue structures and low intrareader reliability .

Scoring systems used to assess the severity of OA on radiographs include :


CT has excellent accuracy in assessing bony OA changes. It is especially useful in the assessment of the facet joints. In order to reliably assess the articular cartilage, an arthro-CT must be performed.


Ultrasound is not routinely used in OA. The assessment of the bony structure and deep joint structures using this modality is impossible. However, it is useful in detecting joint effusion, synovitis, and osteophytes. It can also act as guidance in joint interventions.


MRI can very accurately assess both bones and soft-tissue joint structures. It can detect bone marrow changes and cartilage loss, both of which are early OA changes and are not visible on radiographs. On conventional MR, articular cartilage is best assessed using fluid-sensitive sequences with fat suppression; with the advent of new methods of cartilage quantification and composition assessment - currently used in research - the sensitivity is further increased. Contrast administration enhances the visualization of synovitis.

Several scoring systems using MRI assessment of OA of the knee have been proposed :

  • Whole-Organ Magnetic Resonance Imaging Score
  • Knee Osteoarthritis Scoring System
  • Boston Leeds Osteoarthritis Knee Score
Nuclear medicine

While not routinely used in clinical practice, nuclear medicine studies can provide information about multiple joints in one examination. The changes in the joints with OA show increased radiotracer uptake due to reactive bone turnover. The potential disadvantage of a poor anatomical resolution can be solved by using hybrid imaging .

Nuclear medicine examination used in the assessment of OA are:

  • scintigraphy with Tc-hydroxymethane diphosphonate (HDP)
  • PET with FDG or F

Treatment and prognosis

There is no effective treatment to slow or reverse the changes of osteoarthritis . The mainstays of treatment include exercise, walking aids, bracing, and analgesia (including intra-articular steroid injections) . Arthroplasty can result in improved function and reduced pain .

History and etymology

The term "osteoarthritis" was introduced as a synonym for rheumatoid arthritis by John K. Spender in 1886, however, it was not until 1907 that Archibald E. Garrod applied the term to the condition that is now considered to be osteoarthritis .

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