Updated 25 November 2016

Causes of osteoarthritis

What are the causes of osteoarthritis?


Osteoarthritis used to be seen as a result of wear and tear of the joints.

However, the disease is now regarded as having several subtypes, with some being more aggressive and related to immune mechanisms, resulting in “inflammation against self” and an erosion of the cartilage and adjacent bone – called erosive osteoarthritis.

The mechanism is a complex system of interacting mechanical, biological, biochemical and enzymatic feedback loops. When one or more of these fail, osteoarthritis occurs.

Anything that changes the microenvironment of the bone cell may initiate the chain of events which lead to osteoarthritis, i.e. congenital joint abnormalities, genetic defects, infectious processes, metabolic processes and neurological disease.

Trauma to a joint may initiate
osteoarthritis, including prolonged overuse of a joint or group of joints.

Osteoarthritis has a large tendency to be a genetically primed disease, especially in the end joints of the fingers and the spine.

Read more:

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Reviewed by Dr Ingrid Louw, MBChB, MMed (Int), rheumatologist/physician, (private practice), June 2011


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Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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