Osteoarthritis symptoms are caused when cartilage covering synovial joints begins to break down. The degeneration of cartilage exposes bones of the joint and allows bone-on-bone contact, causing extreme pain. The loss of cartilage may also affect the shape of the compromised joint and cause stiffness or reduced range of motion. Osteoarthritis symptoms can affect any joint in your body, but it most commonly affects in the hands, hips, knees, neck, and lower back.

Common Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Stiffness

This common osteoarthritis (OA) symptom is usually most extreme in the mornings or after long periods of inactivity or rest. Joints may feel achy, rigid, and hard to move.

Pain

Soreness and aching pain are often felt in joints that are affected by OA, and muscle pain can also occur in the surrounding tissue. Usually, pain is located at the same site as the affected joints and feels most intense after sleep or a period of inactivity. Pain and tenderness can be caused by inflammation in the joints, bony osteophytes (extra bits of bony growth on affected joints), or pinched nerves that develop due to swelling and displacement of anatomical structures around the nerve.

Swelling

This common symptom of osteoarthritis often results in stiffness and pain. Swelling is the body’s reaction to irritants such as infection, bone-on-bone contact, or other injury.

Loss of Flexibility and Range of Motion

With stiffness, pain, and swelling around affected joints, a person with OA may not be able to move joints through a normal range of motion.

Bone Spurs (Ostephytes)

These small bony projections may be present naturally or may develop in response to inflammation in a joint. Bone spurs are most common where bones meet each other in joints, though they may also form at the intersection of bones and tendons. Bone spurs can sometime be felt as hard little lumps around joints affected by OA. While not painful in and of themselves, bone spurs can rub against nearby nerve and bone, causing additional pain.

Fatigue

Inflammation is caused by chemical mediators called cytokines that can cause fatigue. People with OA often have to exert extra physical effort in order to carry out the basic daily tasks of living (buttoning shirts, carrying out trash, etc.) This combination can result in the subjective feeling of tiredness.

Depression and/or Anxiety

People who suffer from osteoarthritis are at an increased risk for anxiety and depression. The most obvious reason is that any person who deals with chronic pain is exposed to chronic levels of stress. That stress can lead to depression or anxiety, especially if healthy coping mechanisms are not in place.

Fever

Fever is not generally a symptom of osteoarthritis. However, if there is a substantial inflammatory component to the arthritis, patients may have a low fever.

Emergency OA Symptoms

Osteoarthritis may negatively impact your quality of life, but it usually is not a disease that requires urgent emergency action. However, if you experience any of the following, call your healthcare provider immediately:

  • Your joint pain persists beyond three days
  • You have severe, unexplained joint pain
  • The affected joint is significantly swollen
  • You have a hard time moving the joint
  • Your skin around the joint is red or hot to the touch
  • You have a fever or have lost weight unintentionally