Signs and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Recognizing Early Symptoms Leads to Early Treatment

Man experiencing joint pain while on the beach. Jeannot Olivet/ E+/Getty Images

Joint Damage May Not Cause Pain

Osteoarthritis patients can have joint damage which is evident on x-ray or other imaging studies while experiencing few symptoms. Conversely, it is possible for an osteoarthritis patient to have pain or other symptoms while not having x-ray evidence of the disease.

Common Symptoms Associated With Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Joint pain
  • Joint stiffness
  • Joint tenderness
  • Limited range-of-motion
  • Crepitus (crackling, grinding noise with movement)
  • Joint effusion (swelling)
  • Local inflammation
  • Bony enlargements and osteophyte formation

Pain Characterizes Osteoarthritis

Pain is the primary symptom of osteoarthritis and is linked to functional impairment and disability in osteoarthritis patients. Usually osteoarthritis pain develops gradually. With mild to moderate osteoarthritis, pain typically worsens with use of the joint and improves with rest. As the disease progresses, pain is usually more persistent and may not be relieved by rest or basic treatments for osteoarthritis.

Other than being a sign of more severe disease, pain at rest can be a sign of local joint inflammation. Morning stiffness is common with osteoarthritis but does not last as long as it does in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Usually morning stiffness in osteoarthritis patients lasts less than 30 minutes.

Osteoarthritis is Localized Disease

Osteoarthritis is not a systemic disease like rheumatoid arthritis. Symptoms of osteoarthritis are usually localized to the affected joint. Severe cartilage loss in the joint can result in misshapen joints which can cause joint instability. Unstable joints can cause a joint to lock or buckle, especially the knee.

Posture, coordination, and ability to walk can be affected by joint pain and stiffness of hips, knees, and spine. Manual dexterity problems are a sign of osteoarthritis in the fingers or hand. Visible signs of finger osteoarthritis can include:


Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases, Arthritis Foundation Publication, Edition 12. John K. Klippel, M.D., Editor. Copyright 2001.
Osteoarthritis. The Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. 7/07/07. <>

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