The main symptoms of osteoarthritis are pain and stiffness in your joints, which can make it difficult to move the affected joints and do certain activities.

The symptoms may come and go in episodes, which can be related to things such as your activity levels and even the weather. In more severe cases, the symptoms can be continuous.

You should see your GP if you have persistent symptoms of osteoarthritis so they can confirm the diagnosis and prescribe any necessary treatment.

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)

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body, but the most common areas affected are the knees, hips and small joints in the hands. Often, you'll only experience symptoms in one joint or a few joints at any one time.

Osteoarthritis of the knee

If you have osteoarthritis in your knees, both your knees will usually be affected over time, unless it 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 up or down hills or 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.

Osteoarthritis of the hip

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

You'll also usually have pain in the groin or outside the hip. This is often worse when you move the hip joints, although it can also affect you when you're resting or sleeping.

Osteoarthritis of the hand

Osteoarthritis often affects three main areas of your hand:

  • the base of your thumb
  • the joints closest to your fingertips
  • the middle joints of your fingers

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

Page last reviewed: 04/08/2016

Next review due: 04/08/2019