Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Common osteoarthritis symptoms and signs

Symptoms of osteoarthritis vary greatly from patient to patient and they depend on the severity of cartilage loss and the joint(s) affected. Many people with osteoarthritis have no symptoms or minimal symptoms while some suffer extreme loss of function and tenderness of the joints involved.

Because osteoarthritis often causes no symptoms it is frequently first diagnosed based on clinical examination or detected incidentally while taking X-rays for another condition. The doctor can see signs of early osteoarthritis in the fingers as it presents as nodularity of the joints at the ends of the fingers. The nodular enlargements of these joints are referred to as Heberden's nodes. When the middle joints of the fingers have cartilage loss from osteoarthritis, bony enlargements can occur there that also cause nodularity. This nodularity is referred to as Bouchard's nodes. Osteoarthritis also commonly affects the joint at the base of the thumbs to cause bony enlargement. Osteoarthritis in any area of the hand can lead to symptoms of inflammation including

  • stiffness,
  • redness,
  • warmth,
  • swelling, and
  • pain as well as loss of grip, dexterity, and flexibility.

This can cause significant pain with handshaking and other activity.

Osteoarthritis symptoms and loss of function

Osteoarthritis affecting large joints, which is also common, can lead to substantial loss of function of the extremities. When it involves the hips, knees, or ankles it can cause limping and inability to move (immobility). Swelling or creaking or crunching of bone rubbing on bone in the knees is common. When it involves the shoulders, it can cause loss of the normal range of motion with decreased motion of the shoulder and soreness when sleeping on the shoulder at night.

Osteoarthritis symptoms in the spine

Cartilage loss and osteoarthritis can also affect the spine. In fact, this is extremely common in persons over 65 years of age. This can cause spinal pain in the neck, upper back, and lower back and lead to stiffness and decreased motion and flexibility of the spine. Occasionally, the new bone that forms around the spine leads to bony spurs that can irritate adjacent nerves to cause severe nerve pain, numbness, and tingling.


What joints are most often affected by osteoarthritis? See Answer

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Firestein, Gary S., et al. Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology, Ninth Edition. China: Elsevier Health, 2012.