Osteoarthritis can affect any joint but is most common in your hips, knees, spine, neck, and hands. It may start in one joint, but it often affects multiple sites.

Arthritis refers to inflammation of the joints. While several types of arthritis exist, osteoarthritis (OA) is due specifically to mechanical “wear and tear” of your joints over time.

OA can affect large and small joints throughout your body and involve multiple sites. Here are the most common sites.

sites most affected by osteoarthritis, specifically the neck, spine, hip, hand, and kneeShare on Pinterest
Illustration by Alyssa Kiefer

A large global analysis published in 2023 suggests that OA affects the knee more than any other joint. Some people experience sudden onset of knee OA, but it usually develops over a long period.

Symptoms of knee OA include:

  • swelling and stiffness
  • trouble bending or straightening the knee
  • pain after sitting or resting
  • pain after vigorous activity
  • locking, sticking, or clicking when moving the knee
  • weakness or buckling of the knee

Managing and treating knee osteoarthritis

Managing OA often requires lifestyle changes, such as avoiding certain activities that might aggravate symptoms, like climbing stairs. You may also benefit from assistive devices, like a knee brace or cane, to help support mobility.

Treatment may involve over-the-counter pain relievers, prescription anti-inflammatory medications, or injectable corticosteroids. Nondrug options include physical therapy and exercises to increase range of motion, flexibility, and muscle strength.

Surgical options include arthroplasty (knee replacement) or other alternatives.

Read more about treatments for knee OA.

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The hip is a ball-and-socket joint involving the head of your femur and part of the pelvis bone called the acetabulum. Hip OA happens when the cartilage that covers both parts of the ball-and-socket joint starts to wear away.

Symptoms of hip OA include:

  • trouble walking because of decreased range of hip motion
  • walking with a limp
  • radiating pain from the groin or thigh to the buttocks or knee
  • pain flares after vigorous activity
  • hip joint stiffness that makes it hard to bend
  • locking, sticking, and grinding noise in the joint

Managing and treating hip osteoarthritis

Hip OA treatment starts with nonsurgical interventions like exercises with a physical therapist, reducing activities that put pressure on your hip, and switching from high impact exercise (such as jogging) to low impact (such as swimming).

Medications for hip OA include acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and corticosteroids. Assistive devices like canes and walkers can help you stay mobile while managing hip OA.

If surgery is required, options include hip resurfacing and hip replacement.

Learn more about treatments for hip OA.

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OA of the hands typically affects one of three areas:

OA of the hand progresses over time and can cause some unique symptoms. You might experience loosening of the surrounding joints if you have advanced OA of the base of the thumb. When OA affects the finger joint closest to the nail, it can lead to mucous cysts.

Other typical symptoms include:

  • dull, aching pain that comes and goes, especially in the early stages
  • constant, often sharp pain in advanced stages
  • stiffness or an inability to open and close fingers
  • feeling of grinding or cracking (crepitus)
  • swelling and tenderness
  • bony lumps or shape changes in the finger joints
  • larger finger joints
  • hand weakness

Managing and treating hand osteoarthritis

You can manage hand OA by splinting, exercising the hand, and changing movements to reduce pain. Hot and cold therapy can also provide some relief.

Medications include over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and prescription injectable corticosteroids to reduce pain.

Surgical options depend on the affected joint but may include joint replacement.

Learn more about surgical treatment of hand OA.

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Osteoarthritis of the spine is called spondylosis. It affects the intervertebral discs and joints between the vertebrae (facet joints). As the discs degenerate and bone spurs (osteophytes) form, they can pinch nearby nerves.

Bone spurs can narrow the spaces in the spine, resulting in spinal stenosis. This puts pressure on the nerve roots and spinal cord, causing pain and numbness in the limbs near or below the area of the narrowing.

Symptoms of spinal OA include:

  • radiating pain into your shoulder or arm
  • pain or stiffness in your lower back
  • weakness or numbness in your arms
  • trouble straightening your back and other loss of spinal flexibility
  • grinding when moving
  • spinal joints that are tender to the touch

Managing and treating spinal osteoarthritis

Treatment for spinal OA begins with nonsurgical interventions to relieve pain and maintain mobility.

You might find pain relief through therapies like massage and acupuncture. You can change your physical activity to focus on movement that does not place stress on your back.

Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and prescription corticosteroid injections can also help relieve pain.

If surgery is required, doctors may fuse segments of the spine together or take pressure, caused by bone spurs, off the spinal cord.

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Neck OA is also called cervical spondylosis. It’s very common, affecting more than 85% of people age 60 years, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Neck OA occurs in the cervical spine — the first seven vertebrae at the top of the spine, starting at the base of the skull. The loss of space and cushioning between the vertebrae leads to cervical spondylosis.

Symptoms of neck OA include:

  • worsening pain from looking up or looking down for long periods
  • worsening pain from holding the neck in a single position for long periods
  • grinding or popping noise when you turn your neck
  • headaches
  • neck or shoulder muscle spasms
  • numbness or weakness in arms, hands, or fingers
  • trouble walking or leg weakness

Managing and treating neck osteoarthritis

Nondrug treatments for neck OA include neck exercises, physical therapy, and ice or heat therapy. A soft collar can also help you relax your neck muscles.

Medications like over-the-counter pain relievers, oral corticosteroids, and muscle relaxants can help treat neck OA. Doctors may also recommend steroid injections such as cervical epidural block.

Other techniques include radiofrequency ablation or surgery if you have a compressed spinal cord or a pinched spinal nerve.

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OA often starts in a large joint such as the hip or knee. It can then spread to other joints in the body.

Progression might happen because a person changes how they move to compensate for OA in the first joint, and this can put pressure on the other joints.

According to a 2020 study, as many as 84% of people with OA experience pain in more than one site.

OA can affect large joints like the hip and knee, as well as smaller joints in the spine, neck, and hands. The leading cause is the wearing down of cartilage in the joint. Treatment aims to reduce pain and inflammation.

Nonsurgical remedies can often help keep the joint mobile. For most cases of OA, surgery is also an option when nonsurgical techniques are no longer effective.