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What are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?

Updated on June 25, 2011

What is Osteoarthritis?

Before discussing the symptoms of osteoarthritis, it is important to understand the condition.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that affects almost 40 million Americans. It is characterized by the progressive loss of articular cartilage which is the smooth lining that enables our joints to move painlessly thousands of times every day.

It is most common in the weight-bearing joints of the body - knees, hips, lower back and neck - but is also common in the shoulder, hand and thumb.

As opposed to Rheumatoid Arthritis, which is an auto-immune disease, osteoarthritis is known as the "wear and tear" type of arthritis. This is why it becomes more common as we advance in age. As the general population ages, osteoarthritis is becoming a bigger issue. To get an idea of the magnitude of the problem, $11 Billion is spent every year in the United States on 500,000 knee replacement operations. Considering the many other joints that osteoarthritis can affect, the total cost to the economy is astronomical and growing year by year.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

The first and primary symptom of osteoarthritis is pain. Osteoarthritis usually starts long before any symptoms are noticed. In the early stages, as the articular cartilage covering first begins to soften and thin, the disease is often painless. It is only when the cartilage layer finally becomes significantly worn that symptoms become apparent.

When pain first occurs it is often a transient dull ache, seemingly innocent and quickly gone. It is only when the frequency of the pain increases that the sufferer begins to think there may be a problem. It is often hard to pinpoint the trigger to the pain as it is common for the pain not to occur during activity, but after.

The next most common symptom is stiffness. Stiffness is first noticed after periods of inactivity. Being a little "slow to get started" in the morning is the typical complaint. In the early stages this will not be repeated during the day. As the degeneration progresses, any periods of prolonged inactivity - especially sitting - lead to stiffness and pain. When you can't sit through a feature length movie without seizing up, osteoarthritis may be the cause.

As our spine is often in a flexed position when we sit, getting up out of a chair and taking a few steps before your are able to stand up straight is a classic sign of osteoarthritis in the lumbar spine. Feeling "like an old man" when getting out of chair is the stiffness of osteoarthritis at play.

Osteoarthritis Symptoms - Bow-legged

Other Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Pain and stiffness are the first symptoms most will notice,but there are others, particularly as the disease process advances.

Arthritic joints lose range of motion. This may or may not be associated with pain at the end of the available range. The result is not being able to bend joints quite as far as they used to go. At first this has little impact on daily activities. Once the loss of movement becomes more pronounced, certain basic tasks become difficult or impossible. This is called loss of function, and it is this loss of ability along with pain that have the greatest effect on the lives of osteoarthritis sufferers.

Grinding or noise from the joints is another typical complaint. It should be noted that noise from joints does not necessarily indicate a problem as it is common in healthy joints also. It has been suggested that due to other symptoms (such as pain) people take more notice of the noise from their joints and blame it for their pain, despite the fact that the noise or grinding pre-dates their arthritis.

Deformity is a medical term used to describe a change in angle. This occurs in osteoarthritis due to differences in the rate of wear of different parts of the joint. In the example of the knee, when the inside half of the knee is more worn than the outside half, the foot drifts towards the midline, resulting in the deformity we know as 'bow-legged'. When the opposite occurs, the resultant deformity is commonly known as 'knock-kneed'.

Do your symptoms match those of osteoarthritis?

 Always remember that there is no substitute for qualified, experienced medical advice. All of us are different and our individual history needs to be taken into account when deciding the best course of action.

If you suspect that osteoarthritis is the cause of your pain see your doctor and discuss your concerns.

Educate yourself on the condition, as knowledge is power and will help you make the right choices when it comes to your treatment. Being proactive in the fight against osteoarthritis is the key to an active future.

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    • drdspervez profile image

      drdspervez 4 years ago from Pakistan

      It's an informative and interesting article, thanks for sharing your knowledge. Dr. Durreshahwar Pervez.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      Though not diagnosed I do get pain in my neck after sitting at the computer. I do weights and that helps.Also another solution ...I made myself a mixture of essential oils and after putting it on the pain seems to go away. Interesting hub.

    • profile image

      Jayanta Baksi 6 years ago

      In the initial phase, indeed its a very good approach to teach the fundamentals of this problem to the sufferer. Thanks a lot.