Osteoarthritis - Symptoms 

Symptoms of osteoarthritis 

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.

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 will 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, 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 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 will also usually have pain in the groin or outside the hip. This will often be worse when you move the hip joints, although it can also affect you when you are 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 and the middle joints of your fingers.

Your fingers may become stiff, painful and swollen and you may develop bumps on your finger joints. But 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.

When to seek medical advice

You should see your GP if you have persistent symptoms of osteoarthritis so they can try to identify the cause.

To help determine whether you have osteoarthritis, your GP will ask you about your symptoms and examine your joints.

Read more about diagnosing osteoarthritis.

Page last reviewed: 27/08/2014

Next review due: 27/08/2016


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The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Martzovdiff said on 24 August 2014

At 39 I have just been told that I have Osteoarthritis of both hips, but severe in my left. I am gutted as I am an active person, playing and coaching volleyball.

I am struggling to find decent pain relief, as I am constantly feeling shooting pains down my leg and around the base of the spine. My GP is decent and is really trying to help me out. My advice, as a male, is do not ignore any symptoms and see your GP right away, I feel that my treatment has already started, be it annoying.

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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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