Osteoarthritis - Symptoms 

Symptoms of osteoarthritis 

The main symptoms of osteoarthritis include pain and stiffness in your joints. You may have difficulty moving the affected joints or doing certain activities.

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.

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. If you have bad pain at night, your doctor may refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon, in case a joint replacement operation is needed.

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.  

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.

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Page last reviewed: 16/08/2012

Next review due: 16/08/2014

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The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

GMX said on 25 November 2013

I visited my GP today because for the past 6 months I have experienced pain and swelling on the top of my left foot. I feel more pain when I lift my foot or when wearing a heavy boot. I can move my toes.
The onset of this pain came about when I was walking across a snow covered field and I stood on the edge of a brick. I heard 'felt' a crack but felt no pain. Later when I took my boot off the top of my foot was bruised and it was very painful. I thought I might have a minor crack and that if I went to the surgery they would say rest, cold compress take painkillers etc. I was very busy so I lived with it for weeks. However although the pain is reduced I still have discomfort some 6 months later I went along today. last time I went to a GP was in 1983.
The diagnosis was osteoarthritis of the toe joints. I would have expected to be offered an x-ray to confirm this diagnosis but none was offered.
The pain is liveable with but I have a limp. I am fit never been over weight. Can I get an x-ray privately to confirm this diagnosis.?

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AnnaMaria0811 said on 12 May 2013

This week a physiotherapist has finally diagnosed osteoarthritis in the hip after years of trying to get assorted doctors and consultants to listen to me. I am not delighted with the news but I feel such a huge sense of relief that I now know the cause of such pain. The first part of my treatment is to do strengthening exercises for my right leg as the muscles have become very weak after years of transferring movement to the other leg.

One of the main things for me is that psychologically I have moved on, knowing that someone has finally listened to me. Thank you

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JLM789 said on 06 May 2011

I am 36 and have just been told i have osteoarthritis of my lower back and am struggling to find pain medication as i am on warfarin which makes things a little more complicated. If anyone has any advice i would be great-full.

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topsider said on 26 March 2010

But nothing to tell me how to decrease the discomfort!

re Osteoartritis in the finger.

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