How to Recognize the Signs and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Paying Attention to Symptoms Leads to Proper 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 which 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 your doctor can properly examine you and recommend a treatment plan.

Typically, osteoarthritis develops gradually. You'll 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 which is less in the morning and stronger at the end of the day following activity.
  • Muscle atrophy around joints caused by inactivity can 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.


  • Don't ignore pain and assume it will go away.
  • Don't try self treatment prior to getting a diagnosis from a doctor.
  • If you suspect arthritis, consult a rheumatologist, a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating arthritis and other rheumatic diseases.
  • Always tell your doctor about any significant changes in your condition.
  • Follow your medication schedule and treatment plan.

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 you can accurately describe what you have been experiencing to your doctor. Consider keeping a symptom diary to track initial symptoms and subsequent changes.

Find more osteoarthritis information at


Osteoarthritis Symptoms, Disease Center, Arthritis Foundation. March 8, 2007.

Osteoarthritis, The American College of Rheumatology. March 8, 2007.

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