Osteoarthritis​


Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and the risk of its prevalence rises with increasing age. The underlying abnormality in the medical condition is the cartilage (a rubber-like covering at the ends of each bone). The cartilage naturally prevents the bones from grinding against each other and also acts as a shock absorber. When this protective cushion starts breaking down, the bones in a joint begin to rub against each other during movement, causing pain. Bony growths (called “bony spurs”) may form due to thickening of the bone ends and fluid filled cysts (like bubbles) can develop in the bone, both of which interfere with joint movement. 

Osteoarthritis mainly affects the weight-bearing joints such as the hips, knee or spine. Hands may become affected as well. These presenting complaints can be mild and bearable initially, but they usually become worse as time passes. It may reach a point where you find it difficult to function through activities of daily life. 

Osteoarthritis can be classified as primary (linked to old age) and secondary. Causes of the latter type include injury, overuse, infection or birth defect of joint. Obesity is a known risk factor and the development of osteoarthritis may have a hereditary link as well. Hormone disorders, for example diabetes, also play a causal role.

Females are more prone to this disease, although usually after the age of 55 years.  ​

In order to recognize osteoarthritis, you can look out for the following symptoms:

  • Joint pain with movement, relieved on rest

  • Joint stiffness, notably after sleeping or a period of inactivity. Usually lasts less than 30 minutes. 

  • Buckling, due to loss of flexibility and stability when walking

  • Joint locking, which limits the range of motion.  At times bone or cartilage fragments break off and float in the joint space (known as joint mouse). 

  • Bony spurs, which are hard lumps around the affected joint

  • A grating sensation may be felt or heard on movement

​It is natural to experience pain in joints after direct injury or exercise. However, if you are experiencing joint pain or stiffness that persists for more than a few weeks, it requires medical attention. Physicians at the Musculoskeletal and Sports Medicine Service Line at The Aga Khan University Hospital will be able to evaluate your complaints with sound medical expertise.

For a preliminary examination, you can consult a doctor at the Family Health Services.

Your time with your doctor may be limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here are some tips to help get you started.

​Diagnosing osteoarthritis will include an x-ray of the affected joint. The standard routine of asking detailed questions about your complaints and performing a physical examination beforehand is to be expected. However, when relevant, your doctor may order some blood tests, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or collect fluid from the joint for analysis. These further tests will help rule out other diseases such as infection.

​There is no permanent cure for osteoarthritis but the symptoms can be managed. The course of this disease is a fluctuating one, consisting of intermittent flare ups alternating with periods of remission (temporary recovery). Some of you might be dealing with excruciating pain, while others may be more concerned with stiffness and limitations on movement. Treatment options that improve pain and function of joint, and may slow down the progression of disease, include:

Lifestyle changes:  

  • Losing weight (if overweight)

  • Low impact exercise 

  • Physiotherapy (hot/cold, exercise program – strengthens muscles around the joint)

  • Occupational therapy (aids, splints, cane, walker, bracing) - will teach you how to perform everyday tasks without stressing out your painful joint(s).

Medicinal therapy:

  • Oral tablets (acetaminophen, chondroitin sulphate and glucosamine supplements)

  • Joint injections (cortisone shots, lubrication injections)

  • ​Creams/gels for local application​

  • Joint debridement

  • Total/partial joint replacement

  • Osteotomy (realignment of bones so your weight is shifted away from worn out area)

​The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

​Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage



The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.