Osteoarthritis (OA) is a gradually progressive disease and its symptoms too develop gradually and worsen over time. it’s a natural process of aging wherein the joints develop pathology and give rise to the symptoms of osteoarthritis

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 in general

  • Joint pain. There is a pain in the affected joint, which increases on movement. Pain is 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 pain flare-ups.
  • 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 is 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 a loss of the medial part of the cartilage. The ligaments of the knee joint loosen and cause pain.

Knee pain is the most common symptom of osteoarthritis in the knee The knee joint begins to lose stability. You find it painful to jog, run, climb stairs or kneel. There is difficulty in walking and during such movements where the knee joint has to be exercised.

You will feel joint stiffness after sitting with bended knees for prolonged periods.  You will find it difficult to straighten the knee after getting up in the morning.

Swelling develops over the knees, which becomes worse on walking. Bones in the knee joint rub against each other giving rise to a grinding sound.

Over time, osteoarthritis of the knee can change the shape of your knee joint and can make your joint feel unstable or wobbly. Your knee becomes weak you feel you are going to fall over.

Symptoms of hip joint osteoarthritis

There is stiffness of the hip joint and it causes problems with 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 buttocks and knee. In severe cases, pain is also felt at rest. There is a gradual loss of range of hip joint movements.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Pain in your groin or thigh that radiates backward to your buttocks or downwards to your knee
  • Pain that aggravates with strenuous activity
  • Stiffness in the hip joint that makes it difficult to walk or bend
  • Locking” of the joint
  • Reduced range of motion in the hip that makes you walk with a limp

Symptoms of spinal osteoarthritis (Neck and lower back)

Neck osteoarthritis symptoms

Neck osteoarthritis (also known as neck arthritis, cervical arthritis, and cervical spondylosis) is the degeneration of the joints and the osteoarthritis of intervertebral discs of the cervical vertebrae.

It gives rise to symptoms of pain in the neck region that is worse in the morning and subsides later during the day. However, some patients may not experience any symptoms.

There may be stiffness in the neck, and the pain may radiate to the arms and hands in severe cases.

As the disease progresses, other symptoms may develop, more so if there is involvement of the spinal nerves or spinal cord. These include:

  • Neck pain that becomes worse with the movement of the neck
  • Numbness, tingling, and weakness in the arms, hands, and fingers
  • A grinding sound in the neck on movement
  • Headaches

Symptoms of lower back osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine can cause low back pain, and/or stiffness in the lower back, which can radiate to the legs.

Your back feels more stiff upon waking up in the morning, then eases with light activity during the day, and finally worsens toward the end of the day. This is probably because the fluid has built up in the joint due to the overnight rest.

More about symptoms:

  • The back pain may get aggravated by movement
  • It can disrupt sleep
  • Localized tenderness is present in the affected area of the spine.
  • Spinal osteoarthritis restricts joint flexibility causing difficulty in bending.

The severity of the osteoarthritis 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 and wrist

The index and middle fingers and the thumb are the parts of the hand most commonly affected. Many people find that the hand they use most is affected more than the other.

Osteoarthritis of the hands 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

Symptoms include 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. Your hands feel weak or unstable.

Due to loss of strength, you cannot grip objects and this can cause problems with a wide variety of your routine activities  However, the fingers do work well.

Osteoarthritis flare-ups

An osteoarthritis (OA) flare-up is a sudden aggravation of joint pain and other symptoms. Symptoms of osteoarthritis come and go. There are periods of calm alternating with flare-ups of the symptoms like pain. An OA flare-up can last for one or two days or a week or more.

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 osteoarthritis 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 to rest the affected joint to get relief from the flare-up of osteoarthritis. If necessary, he may require a puncture of the joint to obtain relief.


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