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What Happens To Untreated Osteoarthritis & When To Go To Doctor?

National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that 27 million Americans above 25 have osteoarthritis.(1)

NIH also says that seventy percent of people above 70 have osteoarthritis.(2)

What Happens To Untreated Osteoarthritis?

Since osteoarthritis is a slowly progressive condition, it takes a lot of time to develop and even more, time is required for its complications to develop. When a case of osteoarthritis is kept untreated for a long period, there may be the development of various complications which can be even more difficult to treat than the original condition.(3)

A common complication occurring in case of untreated osteoarthritis is chondrolysis which means the complete breakdown of the articular cartilage. In its next stage with can also lead to erosion of the bones especially in the case of hand osteoarthritis. When this complication occurs, there is floating cartilaginous debris found in the joint cavity which increases the pain and limits the joint movement. There can be excess bone formation at the joint which may lead to the fusion of the two bones of joint. It completely inhibits any movement occurring at the joint earlier.

What Happens To Untreated Osteoarthritis?

Many other dangerous complications can also occur such as osteonecrosis in which there is death and eating out of bone leading to its increased fragility. It may cause fractures of various types like a stress fracture, spiral fracture, etc. The muscle group which has its insertions or origins at the involved joint are rendered weak because of the inability of the bones to bear the stress of these tendons and ligaments.

Some uncommon complications are also seen as bleeding in the joint known as haemarthrosis or infection of the bone or joint known as osteomyelitis which can be acute or chronic depending upon the period. These may destroy the joint and its functions leading to handicaps. Also, there is sometimes involvement of nerve associated with the joint in the inflammation leading to a condition known as a pinched nerve. It can be very painful even more than the normal pain of osteoarthritis.(3)

When To Go To Doctor For Osteoarthritis?

There is no specific time for the presentation of the patient to the doctor because in any condition even apart from osteoarthritis it should be consulted with the doctor as soon as possible. Any unnecessary delay and ignorance of the symptoms may lead to deterioration of the condition and can reduce the chances of its cure. Considering the doctor’s advice very carefully and practicing it would be very helpful in the long term because osteoarthritis is a condition that requires long-term treatment.

One should be very careful in choosing the consultant and must be in favor of referring to a specialist such as orthopedics for genuine advice on the condition. People must avoid referring to the quacks which may not have adequate knowledge of the condition and can worsen the condition instead of treating it. It will also be not able to tell the actual prognosis of the condition and would keep the patient in the fake and assured hope of completely curing the osteoarthritis which is not possible once it has set in.(4)


Osteoarthritis is a long-term disease with a slow progression. It’s slowly progressive nature main sometimes works against it because it may generate a sense of ignorance in the patient. It could be very dangerous because there are a lot of complications that can occur due to non-treatment of the condition. Few of these are osteonecrosis, hemarthrosis, osteomyelitis, erosive osteoarthritis, etc. This can lead to a lot of new symptoms but the most common symptom is pain. These all can lead to an increase in pain which may not be countered with traditional pain killers.

A person who feels the symptoms similar to the condition of osteoarthritis, one should consult the appropriate doctor as soon as possible. There should not be any unnecessary delay done on the part of the patient. Getting an early diagnosis is as much important as its treatment.


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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 29, 2020

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