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osteoarthritisSymptoms of osteoarthritis

The main symptoms of osteoarthritis are:

  • pain, especially when doing load-bearing activities, such as walking
  • short-lived stiffness in the morning, which improves in 30 minutes or less when you start to move
  • difficulty moving your affected joints or doing certain activities

However, in some cases of osteoarthritis, you may not have any symptoms at all, as the pain can come in episodes. Often, you will only experience symptoms in one joint or a few joints at any one time. Your symptoms may also develop slowly.

Other features you or your doctor may notice include:

  • joint tenderness
  • increased pain and stiffness when you have not moved your joints for a while
  • joints appearing slightly larger or more 'knobbly' than usual
  • a grating or crackling sound or sensation in your joints
  • limited range of movement in your joints
  • weakness and muscle wasting (loss of muscle bulk)

You are most likely to develop osteoarthritis in the joints of your knees, hips or hands.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis in the knees

If you have osteoarthritis in your knees, it is likely that 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.

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 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.

Treatment overview

Osteoarthritis cannot be cured, but treatment can ease your symptoms and prevent them from affecting your everyday life. The main treatments do not involve medication and consist of:

  • access to the right information
  • weight loss, if you are overweight
  • exercise to improve your fitness and strengthen your muscles, read our article on the best exercises for osteoarthritis

If your osteoarthritis is mild or moderate, you may not need any other treatment. Your GP can give you advice about managing your symptoms by making changes to your lifestyle. These may be enough to keep the condition under control.

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