The most common symptoms of osteoarthritis are pain and stiffness in the joints. Osteoarthritis usually affects the joints of your knees, hips, spine, and hands.
Joint pain or tenderness may be worse later in the day. There can be swelling, warmth, and creaking of the affected joints. Pain and stiffness of the joints can also occur after long periods of inactivity, for example after sitting in a cinema, or after a night in bed leading to stiffness early in the morning. In severe osteoarthritis complete loss of cartilage cushion causes friction between bones, causing pain at rest or pain with limited movement.
The joints may make more noise than usual, with creaking or cracking sounds.
Movement in the joints may be limited and some weakness and muscle wasting may be experienced.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis vary greatly from person to person. Some people can be debilitated by their symptoms. Others may have remarkably few symptoms in spite of dramatic degeneration of the joints apparent on X-rays.
Symptoms also can also come and go. It is not unusual for patients with osteoarthritis of the hands and knees to have years of pain-free intervals between symptoms.
Knee pain may be worse when walking, especially up and down stairs. In some cases, legs may be harder to straighten and may give way beneath a person.
Progressive cartilage degeneration of the knee joints can lead to deformity and outward curvature of the knees referred to as "bow-legged." People with osteoarthritis of the weight bearing joints - such as the knees - can develop a limp. The limping can worsen as more cartilage degenerates. In some patients the pain, limping and joint dysfunction may not respond to medicines or other conservative measures. Severe osteoarthritis of the knees is one of the most common reasons for total knee replacement surgical procedures in the UK.
In the hands, osteoarthritis tends to affect the base of the thumb, joints nearest to the fingertips and the middle finger joints. Fingers may be painful, stiff, and swollen.
Joints may look larger, or more knobbly, than they used to. Osteoarthritis causes the formation of hard bony enlargements of the small joints of the fingers. Classic bony enlargement of the small joint at the end of the fingers is called a Heberden's node, named after the famous English doctor William Heberden, who first described them. The bony deformity is a result of the bone spurs from the osteoarthritis in that joint. Another common bony knob (node) occurs at the middle joint of the fingers in many patients with osteoarthritis and is called a Bouchard's node. Dr Bouchard was a famous French doctor who also studied arthritis patients in the late 1800s. Heberden's and Bouchard's nodes may be painful, especially when they first develop, and they are often associated with limited movement in the joint. The characteristic appearances of these finger nodes can be helpful in diagnosing osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis of the joint at the base of the big toes leads to the formation of a bunion. Osteoarthritis of the fingers and the toes may have a genetic basis, and can be found in many female members of some families.