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Osteoarthritis symptoms

The symptoms of osteoarthritis can vary from one person to the next. Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • stiffness – especially when you haven’t moved your joints for a while, such as in the morning
  • joint pain
  • Joint tenderness
  • a grating or crackling sensation in your joints
  • a limited range of movement of your joints
  • muscle weakness.

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 or a low chair.

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 in 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 lower back may sometimes also be felt radiating down to 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.

Last reviewed: September 2016

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