What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease. It occurs when the cartilage between your bones disintegrates. Cartilage cushions your bones from rubbing together. As the cartilage disintegrates, it can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling.

OA most often affects the following joints:

  • knees
  • hips
  • neck
  • lower back
  • toes
  • hands

This condition can have a significant impact on your lifestyle, and may make it difficult to participate in daily activities. OA affects approximately 30 million Americans.

Read on to learn more about the types of OA, and see pictures of how different types of OA affect the joints.

The knee is one of the most common joints affected by OA.

Symptoms of knee OA

The most common symptoms of knee OA include:

  • stiffness and swelling of the knee
  • difficulty bending the knee
  • more pain or swelling in the morning or after resting
  • locking, creaking, clicking, snapping, or grinding of the knee
  • feeling like the knee is weak or buckling
  • increased pain after physical activity or wet weather

You can feel pain all over the knee when you have this type of OA. It can affect your mobility and restrict your ability to move. This is especially difficult for people who rely on walking a lot during the day.

Learn more: 7 symptoms of osteoarthritis in the knee »

Hip OA is a painful condition that can affect your mobility. People with hip OA have pain around the hip joint that gets worse over time. As time goes by, the pain can become more frequent and more severe. You may also experience more pain at night or when you’ve been resting.

Other symptoms of hip OA include:

  • pain in the groin or thigh that radiates out to the buttocks or knee
  • stiffness in the morning or after resting or standing
  • pain after physical activity
  • stiffness in the joint, or difficulty walking and bending
  • sticking, locking, or grinding of the hip joint
  • decline in range of motion
  • potential limp
  • increased pain during wet weather

Learn more: What are the treatment options for hip arthritis? »

Neck OA can cause stiffness and pain in the neck. Symptoms of neck OA can include the following:

  • pain when holding the neck in the same position for long periods of time
  • headaches
  • grinding sensation or popping noise when turning the neck
  • numbness or weakness in hands, fingers, and arms
  • balance impairments
  • feeling weakness in the hands and legs
  • difficulty walking
  • muscle spasms in the shoulders and neck

Read more: 5 neck exercises for arthritis »

Back OA causes pain in the spine or lower back.

Symptoms of back OA may include the following:

  • back pain that is deep in the muscles
  • increased pain when sitting or standing upright, and reduced pain while lying down
  • lower back pain that is worse in the morning or after periods of inactivity
  • stiffness and limited motion in the spine

For the most part, pain and stiffness will develop over time in the joint areas of the toe. Other symptoms of toe OA include:

  • pain when moving the toe
  • pain that gets worse after physical activity
  • difficulty walking
  • tenderness, swelling, warmth, or a redness on the joint
  • decreased range of motion

OA in your toe, foot, or ankle can impair your mobility. In severe cases, you may become immobilized.

The hand and wrist include many small joints that work together to generate motion. When those joints are impaired, it can lead to pain and uncomfortable symptoms, as well as reduced or limited mobility in your hands.

Symptoms of hand OA include:

  • dull or burning sensation in the hand
  • increased pain after long periods of repetitive usage
  • pain in the morning
  • stiffness, swelling, or enlargement of the joint
  • cysts
  • feelings of grinding between joints

Read more: 7 hand exercises to ease arthritis pain »

OA can cause pain and reduced mobility, but there are many treatments available. Work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan, and let them know if you have increased pain. OA is a degenerative disease, meaning it gets worse over time, so you may need to adjust your treatment plan as the condition progresses.

Read more: Natural relief from arthritis pain »