National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
How Do You Know if You Have Osteoarthritis?
Usually, osteoarthritis comes on slowly. Early in the disease,
your joints may ache after physical work or exercise. Later on, joint pain may
become more persistent. You may also experience joint stiffness, particularly
when you first wake up in the morning or have been in one position for a long
Although osteoarthritis can occur in any joint, most often it
affects the hands, knees, hips, and spine (either at the neck or lower back).
Different characteristics of the disease can depend on the specific joint(s)
affected. For general warning signs of osteoarthritis, see the box on the next
page. For information on the joints most often affected by osteoarthritis,
please see the following descriptions below:
Hands: Osteoarthritis of the hands seems to
have some hereditary characteristics; that is, it runs in families. If your
mother or grandmother has or had osteoarthritis in their hands, you’re at
greater-than-average risk of having it too. Women are more likely than men to
have hand involvement and, for most, it develops after menopause.
When osteoarthritis involves the hands, small, bony knobs may
appear on the end joints (those closest to the nails) of the fingers. They are
called Heberden’s (HEBerr-denz) nodes. Similar knobs, called Bouchard’s
(boo-SHARDZ) nodes, can appear on the middle joints of the fingers. Fingers can
become enlarged and gnarled, and they may ache or be stiff and numb. The base
of the thumb joint also is commonly affected by osteoarthritis.
Knees: The knees are among the joints most
commonly affected by osteoarthritis. Symptoms of knee osteoarthritis include
stiffness, swelling, and pain, which make it hard to walk, climb, and get in
and out of chairs and bathtubs. Osteoarthritis in the knees can lead to
Hips: The hips are also common sites of
osteoarthritis. As with knee osteoarthritis, symptoms of hip osteoarthritis
include pain and stiffness of the joint itself. But sometimes pain is felt in
the groin, inner thigh, buttocks, or even the knees. Osteoarthritis of the hip
may limit moving and bending, making daily activities such as dressing and
putting on shoes a challenge.
Spine: Osteoarthritis of the spine may show up
as stiffness and pain in the neck or lower back. In some cases,
arthritis-related changes in the spine can cause pressure on the nerves where
they exit the spinal column, resulting in weakness or numbness of the arms and
The Warning Signs of Osteoarthritis
stiffness in a joint after getting out of bed or sitting
for a long time
swelling in one or more joints
- a crunching feeling or the sound of bone rubbing on
About a third of people whose x rays show evidence of
or other symptoms. For
those who experience steady or intermittent pain, it is typically aggravated by
activity and relieved by rest.
If you feel
or your skin
red, you probably do not have osteoarthritis.
Check with your doctor about other causes, such as rheumatoid