What Is Severe Osteoarthritis?

X-ray of human hands showing osteoarthritis (Colour Enhanced)
X-ray of human hands showing osteoarthritis. Vince Michaels / Getty Images

Osteoarthritis symptoms can range from mild to severe. What signs and symptoms are associated with severe osteoarthritis? What actually causes the progression from mild to severe osteoarthritis?

Cartilage normally covers the ends of the bones that form a joint. With severe osteoarthritis, the cartilage erodes and bone rubs on bone. The shape of the joint can change, resulting in joint deformity and joint instability.

There is usually inflamed synovium, formation of osteophytes, contracted ligaments and muscle weakness around the affected joint.

Living With Severe Osteoarthritis

As you would expect, severe osteoarthritis is typically more painful than early stage osteoarthritis. With severe osteoarthritis, pain is not only associated with activity but may occur at rest. The range of motion of the affected joint is severely limited. Joint buckling or locking can occur. That may sound like an annoyance, but there can be serious consequences if a joint buckles or locks. For example, a knee joint that buckles can cause a fall that results in a fractured hip.

Is Severe Osteoarthritis a Permanent Condition?

Not every osteoarthritis patient progresses to an advanced stage. Some patients develop a mild form that eventually stabilizes. With severe osteoarthritis, the joint damage is not reversible. In these cases, joint replacement surgery is often the best option for regaining functionality and independence.


Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases. Arthritis Foundation. Thirteenth Edition.

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