Osteoarthritis (Degenerative Arthritis)

Osteoarthritis is a non-inflammatory disease that causes cartilage -- the spongy substance that cushions the space between bones -- to deteriorate. 

At the University of Michigan Department of Rheumatology, we do a full workup to determine what kind of arthritis you have in order to determine an effective treatment plan. We have decades of experience in successfully diagnosing and treating arthritis. 

Osteoarthritis is sometimes referred to as degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease. It is the most common type of arthritis because it's often caused by the wear and tear on a joint over a lifetime. It is most often found in the hands, knees, hips and spine. In the hand, osteoarthritis most often affects the small joints of the fingers and the joint at the base of the thumb.

Factors that contribute to osteoarthritis include: heredity, obesity, joint overuse and injury. Patients who already have rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to develop osteoarthritis. Learn more about the difference between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

At the University of Michigan, we have a team of experts who provide high-quality care for people with arthritis. We provide the full range of treatment options to fit our patients' lifestyles and needs. Although osteoarthritis has no cure, we know first hand that early treatment can reduce pain and improve joint function.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Some of the symptoms of osteoarthritis overlap with rheumatoid arthritis, so it is important to schedule a consultation with a rheumatologist who can diagnose your condition correctly. Common symptoms of osteoarthritis include: 

  • Pain: For some people, the pain may come and go. Constant pain or pain while sleeping may be a sign that the arthritis is getting worse. 
  • Stiffness after a period of not moving, such as in the morning or after sitting for a long time 
  • Muscle weakness around the arthritic joint, especially for arthritis in the knee
  • Swelling: When osteoarthritis causes swelling in joints, they will feel tender and sore.
  • Deformed joints: As osteoarthritis progresses, joints may begin to look crooked or misshapen.
  • Reduced range of motion 
  • Cracking and creaking

Diagnosis of Osteoarthritis

At the University of Michigan Department of Rheumatology, our procedures for diagnosis involve a full workup to determine what kind of arthritis you have in order to determine an effective treatment plan. In addition to a physical exam and medical history, we may need to conduct the following procedures:

  • Arthrocentesis: the removal of joint fluid using a hollow needle
  • Arthroscopy: a small camera is attached to a thin tube to examine joints
  • Closed synovial biopsy: removal of a piece of tissue lining for examination
  • Physical examination
  • Synovial fluid analysis
  • Ultrasounds

Treatment for Osteoarthritis

Considerations for treating osteoarthritis are identified on an case-by-case basis. Every case is unique, but the main categories for treatment are medication, lifestyle changes, physical therapy and surgery. 
  • Medication: Medications include topical creams, acetaminophen, NSAIDs (e.g. Advil or Motrin), glucosamine, analgesics or opioids and cortisone injections. These will be administered by your doctor, depending on a number of factors, including your current medications and pain level.  
  • Lifestyle Changes: Lifestyle changes such as losing weight and exercising can help you live with osteoarthritis more successfully. Your doctor will give you advice about what to change in your daily activities. 
  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapy focuses on strengthening the muscles around an affected joint. It also involves learning how to cope with the disease, finding ways to avoid putting further stress arthritic joints through the use of walking aides or techniques such as splinting. Pain management and stress management classes can also help patients who suffer from arthritis.
  • Surgery: The main goal of surgery is to relieve pain and, when possible, prevent progressive weakness and deformity. We perform three types of surgery for joints affected by arthritis:
    • Fusion (arthrodesis): An operation to make the bones on each side of a joint grow together. Fusion can be very helpful for joints that are stiff and painful, awkwardly crooked, or unstable.
    • Arthroplasty or joint reconstruction: Artificial joints have been developed for the thumb basal joint and the small joints of the fingers as well. Implants are a reasonable alternative to fusion, and in some cases can be used to restore motion to a joint which has been fused.
    • Osteotomy: Osteomy involves cutting bones in order to realign them in a way conducive to pain-free movement. For patients with osteoarthritis, a realignment can reduce wear and tear on cartilage that has been damaged.

Contact Us

Contact us or make an appointment by calling:

  • Orthopaedics at 734-936-5780
  • Rheumatology Services at 888-229-3065

Selecting a health care provider is a very important decision. Because we are highly experienced in treating arthritis and joint inflammation, we would like to help you explore your options. Visit our Contact Us page to see a list of clinics and their contact information. Our staff will be glad to talk with you about how we can help.


Michigan Medicine Comprehensive Hand Center

Our team of specialists at the Comprehensive Hand Center is dedicated to providing comprehensive care for a variety of hand problems. From arthritis injuries, to congenital hand conditions, to the most complex reconstruction, our hand specialists approach each case individually, with a specific plan designed to maximize the restoration of both form and function. Depending on the types of hand conditions our patients face, our physicians will help determine the best therapies or procedures to maximize hand functionality and normal hand appearances. Visit the Comprehensive Hand Center page to learn more about the program and to contact our hand specialists.