Osteoarthritis (OA) can cause complications, such as pain, weight gain, and sleep difficulties. However, proper treatment and management can help minimize the risk of these complications.

OA, also known as degenerative joint disease, is a common chronic joint condition that occurs when wear and tear in the joints — often due to aging — causes the breakdown of cartilage within a joint.

In people with OA, part of the cartilage in their joint has become thinner and rougher, causing severe pain and limited joint movement.

OA is the most common form of arthritis and affects an estimated 32.5 million adults in the United States. It can involve any joint but commonly affects the knees, hands, lower back, hips, and neck.

This article explores the different complications of OA, their causes, and the outlook for people with the condition.

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OA occurs when the cartilage in a joint starts to break down and deteriorate. Health experts are not sure why this happens, but they believe factors such as age, joint overuse, and musculoskeletal issues play important roles in the development of OA.

Over time, OA can damage other tissues surrounding the joint, including:

  • ligaments
  • tendons
  • bone
  • synovium, a connective tissue membrane that lines the inner surface of all synovial joints

This damage to the bones and joints is the major cause of complications in OA. In addition, symptoms such as stress fractures, joint bleeding, and infections are also common, and these can lead to complications such as mobility issues.

Below, we discuss each complication and how it links to OA.

OA can cause a disability that limits movement. Limited movement means it may be challenging to perform everyday activities, including professional work.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that more than half of U.S. adults with arthritis are of working age, and about 8 million say arthritis has limited their ability to work.

OA can make it difficult to:

  • move up and down the stairs
  • stand or sit for a long period
  • bend down
  • grasp objects in the hands
  • lift items

Pain and stiffness are the main symptoms of OA as a result of inflammation. This inflammation occurs where there is tissue damage, even in the absence of trauma. OA typically causes pain that worsens when using the affected joint and improves when at rest.

Joint stiffness is common with the hip joint or spine and typically lasts less than 30 minutes, usually after rest or in the morning. When it occurs in joints such as the knee, it may cause a grinding or scraping sound when a person is walking or moving.

As OA limits movement and makes mobility difficult, it can result in people becoming less active.

Research has shown a strong correlation between physical inactivity and weight gain. A 2020 study by Korean researchers indicates that increased physical inactivity impairs the body’s internal weight management process, leading to increased adiposity (levels of fatty tissue) and weight gain.

A sedentary lifestyle and a lack of physical activity common in people with OA can cause increased weight gain and obesity if someone does not manage them properly.

According to the CDC, compared to people with a moderate weight, those who have obesity or have a higher body mass index (BMI) are at increased risk for many severe medical conditions, including:

Joint damage is a common complication of OA. In people with OA, joint damage can present with:

  • deteriorating wearing away of tendon and ligament, leading to joint instability
  • tiny cracks in bones, also called stress fractures
  • joint infection
  • formation of soft fluid lumps, also called baker’s cysts, behind the knees, which can press on blood vessels or burst, causing pain

Experiencing joint pain can interfere with a person’s sleep. It can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Without adequate sleep, a person’s joint pain could worsen.

Additionally, OA may link to some sleep disorders. According to the Arthritis Foundation, obstructive sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome are two sleep disorders common in people with arthritis and can interfere with their sleep.

Aside from the physical challenges of OAs, the condition can also affect a person’s mental health. This is because this condition is debilitating and can take away a person’s ability to do the activities they previously enjoyed without pain.

Such feelings can lead to depression or anxiety. According to the CDC, 1 in 5 adults with arthritis in the United States have depression or anxiety symptoms.

While OA has no cure, it has effective treatment approaches that are often positive, with some people experiencing improvements from treatment.

How much relief — or how fast — depends on factors such as the joint affected, the severity of symptoms, functional impairment, and treatment approach.

Treatment options such as joint replacement have a good outlook. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons explains that such procedures are safe and effective, and most people should expect a joint replacement to last many years and provide an improved quality of life.

While experts consider OA a progressive disease that deteriorates over time, a 2015 study indicated that some cases do not worsen but rather stabilize.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common form of arthritis that occurs more frequently in older adults. It results from the deterioration of tissues around the joint and can cause health issues such as pain and stiffness, weight gain, and cardiovascular issues.

OA may not have a severe effect on some people. However, it is often helpful for everyone with the condition to speak with their healthcare team about managing their OA, reducing pain, increasing the possibilities of carrying out physical activities, and improving their overall quality of life.