Osteoarthritis

Symptoms of osteoarthritis

The main symptoms of osteoarthritis include all or some of the following:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Loss of movement or muscle weakness in and around your joints

However, in some cases of osteoarthritis, you may not have any symptoms at all, as the pain can come in episodes. Often, you will only experience symptoms in one joint or a few joints at any one time. Your symptoms may also develop slowly.

Other symptoms you or your doctor may notice include:

  • joint tenderness
  • increased pain and stiffness when you have not moved your joints for a while
  • joints appearing slightly larger or more 'knobbly' than usual
  • a grating or crackling sound or sensation in your joints
  • limited range of movement in your joints
  • weakness and muscle wasting (loss of muscle bulk).

You are most likely to develop osteoarthritis in the joints of your knees, hips, spine or hands.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis in the knees

If you have osteoarthritis in your knees, it is likely both your knees will be affected over time, unless it has occurred as the result of an injury or another condition affecting only one knee.

Your knees may be most painful when you walk, particularly when walking uphill or going up stairs. Sometimes, your knees may 'give way' beneath you or make it difficult to straighten your legs. You may also hear a soft, grating sound when you move the affected joint. Keeping the muscle strong around your knee will help you.

For more information about knee problems, please visit the Musculoskeletal Zone.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis in the hips

Osteoarthritis in your hips often causes difficulty moving your hip joints. You may find it difficult to put your shoes and socks on or to get in and out of a car.

If you have osteoarthritis in your hips, you will usually have pain in the groin or outside the hip, which is worse when you move the hip. However, sometimes your brain will identify pain in your knee and not in your hip, because of the ‘wiring’ that transmits the pain signals.

In most cases, pain will be at its worst when you walk, although it can also affect you when you are resting.

Keeping the muscle strong around your knee will help you.

For more information about hip problems, please visit the Musculoskeletal Zone.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis of the spine

The areas of the spine most likely to be affected are the neck and the lower back as these are the most mobile parts of the spine.

If the neck is affected you may be less able to move the neck joints which may affect your ability to turn your head. There may also be pain if the neck and head are held in the same position for long periods or held in an awkward position. There can also be associated muscle spasm in the neck, and pain from the neck can sometimes be felt in the shoulders and arms.

If the lower back is affected, there may be pain when doing a lot of bending or lifting. Stiffness often occurs when resting after exercise or bending. Pain from the low back may sometimes also be felt in the hips and legs.  Keeping the muscle strong around your knee will help you.

For more information about back problems, please visit the Musculoskeletal Zone.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis in the hands

Osteoarthritis often affects three main areas of your hand: the base of your thumb, the joints closest to your fingertips and the middle joints of your fingers.

Your fingers may become stiff, painful and swollen and you may develop bumps on your finger joints. However, over time the pain in your fingers may decrease and eventually disappear altogether, although the bumps and swelling may remain.

Your fingers may bend sideways slightly at your affected joints or you may develop painful cysts (fluid-filled lumps) on the backs of your fingers.

In some cases, you may also develop a bump at the base of your thumb where it joins your wrist. This can be painful and you may find it difficult to perform some manual tasks, such as writing, opening jars or turning keys.

Keeping the muscle strong around your knee will help you.

For more information about hand and wrist problems, please visit the Musculoskeletal Zone.

More information

You can find out more about the symptoms of osteoarthritis on the following websites:

Last updated: 28 May 2014

Continue to next section: Causes of osteoarthritis