Degenerative arthritis is a term synonymous with osteoarthritis, a chronic disorder that damages the cartilage and tissues surrounding a joint. It is sometimes called “degenerative joint disease” or “wear and tear” arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, affecting 27 million Americans 1 Arthritis Prevalence: A Nation in Pain. Arthritis Foundation. Updated May 13, 2009. Accessed December 2010. and nearly all people in some way by age 80. In younger generations, men are more prone to develop osteoarthritis due to injury; however, after age 70, prevalence is equal among the sexes 2 Altman, Roy D. Osteoarthritis (OA). Merck. Updated February 2008. Accessed January 2011. .


Osteoarthritis is characterized by:

  • Pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joint that is worse in the morning and following periods of inactivity.
  • A reduction of symptoms will usually result with lightened activity.
  • Pain typically begins in only one or a few joints, and is most common in the weight-bearing joints of the hips, knees, and feet.
  • Symptoms also can occur in the fingers, toes, neck, and low back.

As the disease progresses, new growths of bone or cartilage can enlarge the joints and cause significant pain and loss of mobility. Early treatment is important in limiting the progression of the disease. Treatment programs for degenerative arthritis usually employ a combination of physical therapy exercises and medical therapy, including at times injections, to reduce pain and maintain mobility and flexibility of the joints. In late stage disease, surgery for arthritis may also be an option.

Osteoarthritis is mostly a disease of aging, resulting from regular use and sometimes overuse of specific joints, such as from obesity or demanding sports. Tissue damage can also hasten the progression of the disease. Regardless of the cause, the ultimate result is the formation of a rough, pitted surface on the previously smooth cartilage. The joint is no longer able to move without friction, and severe pain can result.

Explore symptoms and treatments for specific joints affected by osteoarthritis in the Osteoarthritis Health Center

Dr. Grant Cooper is a physiatrist with several years of clinical experience, specializing in the non-surgical treatment of spine, joint, and muscle pain. He is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of Princeton Spine and Joint Center and the Co-Director of the Interventional Spine Program. Dr. Cooper has authored and edited 15 books.