What Does Osteoarthritis Feel Like? Symptoms and Signs

Osteoarthritis is a gradually progressive disease and its symptoms too develop gradually and worsen over time.

In the previous post,we discussed the causes and risk factors. This post explains the osteoarthritis symptoms of the knee, hip, spine (neck and back) and hands.

Symptoms and Signs

  • Joint pain. There is pain in the affected joint, which increases on movement. Pain is also more when the movement occurs after a period of prolonged rest. In advanced cases, pain is present even at rest along with tenderness.  There are periods of respite from pain. You, therefore, have periods of no pain alternating with flare-ups of pain.
  • Stiffness. Pain is accompanied by stiffness of the joint, which makes movement difficult. Stiffness is often marked after prolonged rest such as on getting up in the morning after a night’s sleep. It lasts for less than 30 minutes and reduces with movement.
  • Swelling. Occasionally there may be swelling of the affected joint more so in advanced cases. The increase in proliferation of the cartilage, bone mass, ligament, tendon, the synovial sac, and the effusion of the joint cause the classic swelling of osteoarthritis.
  • Grating sound. Grating or crepitus sensations may be felt as the OA progresses, which caused by the bones rubbing against each other.
  • Tenderness on palpation of the joint will be the sign in advanced cases.
  • Locking of the joint. Abnormalities of the intra-articular structures or abnormally placed menisci can cause the joint to get locked.
  • In some patients, there will not be any symptoms even in advanced cases.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee

The cartilage in the knee joint between the bones of the thigh and the leg is lost. In the majority of the cases, there is loss of the medial part of the cartilage. The ligaments of the knee joint loosen and cause pain.  The knee joint begins to lose stability.

There is difficulty in walking or climbing the stairs and during such movements where the knee joint has to be exercised.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis of the hip joint

There is stiffness of the hip joint and it causes problems on movements such as getting out of the bed, or out of the car or difficulty in putting on your socks.

Pain is felt in the inguinal area and the side of the hip joint and is marked during any weight-bearing activities. The pain may be referred to the knee. In severe cases, pain is also felt at rest. There is a gradual loss of range of movements.

Symptoms of spinal osteoarthritis – neck (cervical) and back (lumbar)

Cervical spinal osteoarthritis may cause pain and/or stiffness in the neck, which can radiate to the arms and hands in severe cases.

Similarly, osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine can cause pain and/or stiffness in the back, which can radiate to the legs.

The severity of the symptoms varies. In some cases, these symptoms can interfere with daily activities and job performance, which can make the person feel emotionally disturbed and depressed.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis of the hands.

Osteoarthritis affects three main areas of the hand:

  • The base of your thumb,
  • The joints closer to the fingertips and
  • The middle joints of the fingers

There is pain, stiffness and swelling over the affected joints. Pain may disappear over time but the firm swelling over the joints may remain.

The fingers bend laterally and cysts can develop on the back of the fingers, which are painful. However, the fingers do work well.

Osteoarthritis flare-ups

Symptoms of osteoarthritis come and go. There are periods of calm alternating with flare-ups of the symptoms like pain. Nocturnal pain can make the patient wake up from his sleep. Morning stiffness in the joint is acute and prolonged and the swelling is noticeable.

The causes of flare-ups are often the overuse of the affected joint and a change of weather.

Besides the usual treatment with anti-inflammatory painkillers, the patient is advised rest to the joint to get relief from the flare-up of osteoarthritis. If necessary, he may require puncture of the joint to obtain relief.

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