Osteoarthritis Signs and Symptoms

Paying Attention to Symptoms Leads to Proper Diagnosis and Treatment

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Osteoarthritis is considered the most common type of arthritis. About 27 million Americans have osteoarthritis. The disease causes limited range of motion and physical limitations which can affect daily living activities.

Osteoarthritis is caused by progressive deterioration of joint cartilage. It's important to recognize the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis so that you can consult your doctor for a physical examination and other diagnostic tests, followed by appropriate treatment.

Typically, osteoarthritis develops gradually. You feel sore or stiff at first. The discomfort may be moderate and not be constantly present. Other signs and symptoms associated with osteoarthritis may include:

  • Joint soreness after inactivity or periods of overuse of a joint.
  • Stiffness after rest and disappears quickly as activity begins again.
  • Morning stiffness lasting no longer than 30 minutes.
  • Joint pain that is characteristically less in the morning and greater at the end of the day following activity.
  • Muscle atrophy around joints caused by inactivity which may increase pain.
  • Pain and stiffness can affect posture, coordination and ability to walk.
  • Joints of the knees, hips, fingers, lower spine, and neck are most commonly affected by osteoarthritis. The knuckles, wrists, elbows, shoulders and ankles are rarely affected by osteoarthritis except when you injure or overuse the joint.
  • Signs of hip osteoarthritis may include pain in the groin, inner thigh, or buttocks and a pronounced limp.
  • Signs of osteoarthritis of the feet may first be revealed by pain and tenderness in the large joint of the big toe. Certain shoes, such as high heels, can provoke pain in osteoarthritic feet, too.
  • Osteoarthritis of the spine occurs when there is deterioration of spinal discs. The breakdown can cause osteophytes (bone spurs) to develop. The neck and lower back are stiff and painful. Pressure on nerves in the spinal cord can cause pain radiating to the neck, shoulder, arm, lower back, and legs or numbness in arms and legs.
  • Risk factors for osteoarthritis include: overweight, age (usually affecting middle age to older people), injury, and genetic predisposition to osteoarthritis.

The Bottom Line

Don't ignore pain and assume it will go away. You can try over-the-counter pain relievers and self-treatment for a reasonable period of time (usually not more than 2 weeks). When symptoms persist, consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis.

If you suspect arthritis, you may wish to consult a rheumatologist, a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating arthritis and other rheumatic diseases.

Paying attention to early signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis will help distinguish it from other types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, or ankylosing spondylitis. Keep track of your symptoms so that you can accurately describe what you have been experiencing to your doctor. Consider keeping a symptom diary to track initial symptoms and subsequent changes.


Osteoarthritis. Disease Center, Arthritis Foundation.

Osteoarthritis, The American College of Rheumatology. Reviewed May 2015.

Osteoarthritis. Volume II. Chapter 99. Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology Elsevier. Ninth edition.

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