What is Osteoarthritis?

iStock_46812158_XXLARGEOsteoarthritis is commonly referred to as “wear-and-tear” arthritis. It occurs when the joint’s cartilage (protective layer over the ends of bone) is worn down, causing pain and joint restriction. It is the most common chronic condition that affects joints and the most common form of arthritis [1]

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in your body but typically occurs in joints that have been previously damaged or where there is repeated stress and overuse. The affected joint will become painful and stiff to move and possibly enlarged. Other joints may become affected as the body compensates for the sore, stiff joint and they may become arthritic too. Knees and hips are two of the most common joints affected by osteoarthritis.
iStock_74813221_XXXLARGEKnee arthritis can cause knee pain in different parts of the joint. A person may develop knee arthritis under the knee cap, a condition called patella-femoral arthritis. Another common form of knee arthritis is medial compartment osteoarthritis. This condition can lead to narrowing of the joint space on the inside of the knee, with severe cases making the knees have a ‘bow legged’ appearance.

In your foot, the big toe joint is a common site for osteoarthritis. Big toe joint arthritis is sometimes called hallux rigidus or hallux limitus because the joint destruction and stiffness can limit or even stop the big toe joint from moving. One
recent study estimated that about 1 in 6 older people had painful foot arthritis and about 8% had big toe joint arthritis[2]. People with big toe joint arthritis were more likely to have pain in the joint, bunions (hallux valgus), callouses and a tendency to have pronated feet[3].

Arthritis can affect other bones in the foot and ankle and about 7% of older people had arthritis affecting the arch bones of the foot, according to the latest research [2].

What causes Osteoarthritis?

Factors that may contribute to osteoarthritis are:

  • Previous injury
  • Overuse or repetitive stress on joint
  • Poor joint alignment due to factors such as flat feet or high-arched feet
  • Age
  • Excessive weight
  • Genetics

How can Osteoarthritis be treated?

There is no cure for osteoarthritis so treatment is aimed at reducing pain and improving joint mobility where possible. Your treatment programme for osteoarthritis related to your feet may include:

  • Advice for pain management
  • Stretches and exercises to maintain joint mobility
  • Supportive, well cushioned footwear, fitted well to protect painful stiff joints
  • Arch supports or prescription orthoses to stabilise the foot and help reduce abnormal joint loading, particularly in the foot or knee
  • Advice for maintaining healthy lifestyle
  • Coordinating care with other health professionals as required.


  1. AIHW, A snapshot of arthritis in Australia 2010, 2010, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Canberra.
  2. Roddy, E., et al., The population prevalence of symptomatic radiographic foot osteoarthritis in community-dwelling older adults: cross-sectional findings from the clinical assessment study of the foot. Annals Of The Rheumatic Diseases, 2015. 74(1): p. 156-163.
  3. Menz, H.B., et al., Demographic and clinical factors associated with radiographic severity of first metatarsophalangeal joint osteoarthritis: cross-sectional findings from the Clinical Assessment Study of the Foot. Osteoarthritis And Cartilage / OARS, Osteoarthritis Research Society, 2015. 23(1): p. 77-82.