You may experience pain and tenderness in your back, legs, neck, or hips from osteoarthritis. Other early symptoms may be joint stiffness, abnormal sensations, or discomfort at a specific time of day or night.

Osteoarthritis is a form of degenerative joint condition caused by wear and tear on your joints.

As you age, the cartilage cushioning your joints starts to wear down. This could gradually lead to bone-on-bone action, which may cause joint inflammation, pain, and stiffness.

Osteoarthritis most commonly affects the joints in your arms and legs, such as your knees, hips, wrists, and hands. The lower back is also a common source of osteoarthritis pain.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis typically develop over time, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Being aware of the early signs and symptoms could help you receive treatment sooner to minimize the progression of the condition.

Keep reading to learn more about the early signs of osteoarthritis and how to manage them.

One of the most common symptoms of osteoarthritis is pain.

In the early stages of osteoarthritis, you may experience pain in an affected joint:

  • during or after physical activity
  • after waking up in the morning
  • at the end of the day

You may experience a sharp pain when you move the affected joint or a dull ache when resting.


Early osteoarthritis pain usually only causes mild discomfort. Some over-the-counter (OTC) medications and topical pain relievers could help you manage it.

If you experience more frequent symptoms, speak with a healthcare professional. This could be a sign osteoarthritis is progressing.

Joint stiffness is the other most common symptom of osteoarthritis.

In the early stages of the condition, you may experience joint stiffness when you first wake up or haven’t been active for a period. This could briefly affect your mobility, but your joints should quickly loosen after some movement.


Exercising is one of the most important prevention and management methods for osteoarthritis symptoms, especially if you have obesity and overweight.

The Arthritis Foundation recommends stretching exercises to help relieve stiffness.

Applying heat packs to the stiff area in the morning may also help reduce stiffness.

Tenderness is the discomfort you may feel when pressing down on the joint.

In the early stages of osteoarthritis, this symptom may be accompanied by swelling in the joint. However, this is more common in advanced stages of osteoarthritis.


OTC nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) may help reduce tenderness and swelling. Applying cold packs to the affected joint for 20 minutes 2–3 times daily may also help.

The ends of bones in your joints are protected by cartilage. This tissue is a shock absorber that helps your joints move smoothly.

When cartilage wears down over time due to osteoarthritis, bone-to-bone rubbing may produce a number of abnormal sensations, known as crepitus. This may include grating, clicking, or cracking sensations.


It’s important to keep moving your joints if you experience crepitus to help prevent them from stiffening.

Joint stiffness and pain may lead to a reduced range of motion. This refers to the extent to which you can move your joints in their normal patterns.

For example, fully bending and extending your knee is its range of motion. However, if you have osteoarthritis of the knee, you may not be able to bend your knee as far.

You may also notice that your joint is weaker than it used to be. This could affect your ability to perform day-to-day activities like walking up stairs. It may also affect your ability to move your joint through its full range of motion.


Reduced range of motion is a gradual process, but regular exercise and stretching could help you improve it.

The American College of Rheumatology and Arthritis Foundation (ACR/AF) recommends an exercise plan that includes aerobic and strengthening exercises, such as:

These may help improve joint strength, flexibility, and range of motion.

In the early stages of the condition, symptoms of osteoarthritis tend to be limited to specific times, such as:

  • after long periods of rest, like in the morning
  • after physical activity

Damp weather and a change in atmospheric pressure may also impact your symptoms of osteoarthritis.


If the weather affects your symptoms of osteoarthritis, it’s important to check the weather before going outside and dressing warmly.

After rest, applying heat packs to the affected joint or doing light exercises could help your joints warm up.

Learn more about exercises for osteoarthritis of the hands, knees, hips, or spine.

What does the beginning of osteoarthritis feel like?

Early signs of osteoarthritis may include temporary pain, stiffness, and tenderness in the affected joint. These symptoms typically go away after moving.

How quickly does osteoarthritis progress?

The progression of osteoarthritis will depend on several factors, such as age and medical history. If you experience early signs of osteoarthritis, a healthcare professional could develop a treatment plan to help slow the progression of the condition.

Can you stop osteoarthritis from progressing?

There’s no cure for osteoarthritis, but a treatment plan could help slow the progression of the condition.

Early signs of osteoarthritis will typically develop gradually. These may include joint stiffness, pain, and reduced mobility.

Speak with a healthcare professional about treatments for osteoarthritis. Exercise is a great way to help prevent and manage early signs of osteoarthritis. Other remedies may include dietary changes, physical therapy, and natural remedies.

If none of these early treatments help, a healthcare professional may recommend prescription medications and assistive devices for joint support.