Updated 02 October 2018

Causes of osteoarthritis

The actual cause of most cases of primary osteoarthritis is uncertain.

For many years, it was commonly believed that osteoarthritis (OA) was just the result of normal wear and tear of the joints. But it’s not that simple. While it’s generally accepted that overweight, overuse of certain joints, injuries to particular joints, and the process of ageing play a role in the development of primary OA, the actual cause of most cases of primary OA isn’t really known.

Runs in families

Secondary OA develops when certain conditions change the micro-environment of the cartilage. These can include genetic defects, and improperly formed joints.

Secondary OA can also be caused by certain metabolic disorders, such as haemochromatosis. Infectious processes and some neurological diseases can also affect the complex system of the joints. 

OA, especially of the end joints in the fingers and the spine, tends to run in families.

Reviewed by Dr Stella Botha, rheumatologist at Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town (MBChB, MRCP, PhD). November 2017

Image credit: iStock


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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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