Osteoarthritis - Symptoms

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The symptoms of osteoarthritis can vary greatly from patient to patient. What were your symptoms at the onset of your disease?

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What are osteoarthritis symptoms and signs?

Osteoarthritis is a disease of the joints. Unlike many other forms of arthritis that are systemic illnesses (conditions that affect multiple areas of the body or the entire body), such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus, osteoarthritis does not affect other organs of the body. The most common symptom of osteoarthritis is pain in the affected joint(s) after repetitive use. Joint pain of osteoarthritis is usually worse later in the day. There can be swelling, warmth, and creaking of the affected joints. Pain and stiffness of the joints can also occur after long periods of inactivity (for example, sitting in a theater). In severe osteoarthritis, complete loss of the cartilage cushion causes friction between bones, causing pain even at rest or pain with limited motion.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis vary greatly from patient to patient. Some patients can be debilitated by their symptoms. On the other hand, others may have remarkably few symptoms in spite of dramatic degeneration of the joints apparent on X-rays. Symptoms also can be intermittent. It is not unusual for patients with osteoarthritis of the finger joints of the hands and knees to have years of pain-free intervals between symptoms.

Osteoarthritis of the knees is often associated with excess upper body weight, with obesity, or a history of repeated injury and/or joint surgery. Progressive cartilage degeneration of the knee joints can lead to deformity and outward curvature of the knees, which is referred to as being "bowlegged." People with osteoarthritis of the weight-bearing joints (such as the knees) can develop a limp. The limping can worsen as more cartilage degenerates. In some patients, the pain, limping, and joint dysfunction may not respond to medications or other conservative measures. Therefore, severe osteoarthritis of the knees is one of the most common reasons for total knee replacement surgical procedures in the United States.

Osteoarthritis of the cervical spine or lumbar spine causes pain in the neck or low back. Bony spurs, called osteophytes, that form along the arthritic spine can irritate spinal nerves, causing severe pain that can radiate from the spine as well as numbness and tingling of the affected parts of the body.

Osteoarthritis causes the formation of hard, bony enlargements of the small joints of the fingers. Classic bony enlargement of the small joint at the end of the fingers is called a Heberden's node, named after a famous British doctor. The bony deformity is a result of the bone spurs from the osteoarthritis in that joint. Another common bony knob (node) occurs at the middle joint of the fingers in many patients with osteoarthritis and is called a Bouchard's node. Dr. Bouchard was a famous French doctor who also studied arthritis patients in the late 1800s. Heberden's and Bouchard's nodes may not be painful, but they are often associated with limitation of motion of the joint. The characteristic appearances of these finger nodes can be helpful in diagnosing osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis of the joint at the base of the big toe of the foot leads to the formation of a bunion. Osteoarthritis of the fingers and the toes may have a genetic basis and can be found in numerous female members of some families.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: jlssm1941, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: August 14

When I first discovered that something was wrong with me, I was not surprised because I had had some type of pain in my legs since I was three years old. When I was 30 years old, I started getting stiff in the mornings and after sitting for a while, it was difficult for me to walk at first. While changing sheets on my king size bed, I climbed on the bed to place the sheet on the opposite side and suddenly realized that my knees were gone because I could not place any weight on them. All of a sudden I seemed like an invalid. My husband had to help me get off the bed because my knees were locked in place. Such terrific pain I had never experienced before in my life. This was 33 years ago; I now take a pain pill in the morning and one in the evening for some relief. I had microscopic surgery on the left knee three years ago which helped quite a bit; but I am now starting to have severe pain in it again. I have a torn meniscus in the right leg and need surgery. I really would like to have a knee replacement in both legs. I have sent for information on the ZIMMER for women only replacement. There is always hope for a better tomorrow; I hope this is it for me.

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Comment from: Bill, 65-74 Male (Patient) Published: March 27

I had been going to a chiropractor for 2 years, for neck and lower back pain. The last four months, I was going every 2 weeks which was not helping. Finally I had an MRI. I have osteoarthritis in my cervical and lumbar spine, and the pain is getting worse! I now have some sciatica! I am scheduled for an out-patient procedure on 4/7 (I believe it is called a medial bundle branch block, sort of like an epidural) for my cervical spine! The saga continues.

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