Arthritis involves chronic inflammation of one or more joints in the body. With osteoarthritis (OA), the cartilage in one or more of your joints deteriorates over time. Cartilage is a tough, rubbery covering of the end of bones that protects healthy joints and allows them to move easily. When your cartilage degenerates, the smooth surfaces of bones in joints become pitted and rough, irritating the surrounding tissues. Over time, the cartilage may wear away completely, and bones in the joint can rub together, causing severe pain.

The specific cause of OA and the reasons one person may develop the condition while another may not are unknown. It is believed that degradation of cartilage is part of the natural aging process. However, all people age naturally, yet not everyone has OA.

Certain factors can increase your risk including having a family history of OA, being overweight, exposing your joints to long-term overuse recreationally or at work, and previous joint injuries or certain medical conditions. Learn more about osteoarthritis risk factors.

Osteoarthritis Triggers

What triggers osteoarthritis symptoms can vary from person to person, but the most common reasons are listed below.

Lack of Activity

If you sit too long, any movement after getting up is much more likely to hurt.


Research has linked stress to exaggerated perceptions of pain.

Weather Changes

Changes in weather patterns or temperature can worsen symptoms of OA. People with OA are often especially sensitive to cold, damp weather conditions.

Excess Weight

Being overweight increases the load placed on the joints, such as the knee, which increases stress and hastens the breakdown of cartilage. However, being overweight has also been associated with higher rates of hand OA in some studies, suggesting the involvement of a circulating systemic factor as well risk for OA.