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6 Major Signs of Osteoarthritis (OA)

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Experiencing joint pain or stiffness? Maybe you hear your joints crack loudly as you get up from the couch. These may indicate that you have osteoarthritis.

Read on to learn more about the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis that typically affects the knees, hips and hands. It affects more than 25% of the population over 18 years of age.¹ Osteoarthritis is commonly known as the wear and tear of joint cartilage over time which can lead to pain and swelling.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

The symptoms of osteoarthritis can vary across patients but primary symptoms are pain and stiffness in joints.

Here are the 6 major signs that you may have osteoarthritis.

1. Joint pain

Joint pain in osteoarthritis may progress through 3 stages:²

  • Stage 1 – Sharp pain that usually happens during joint use that limits strenuous activities

  • Stage 2 – Pain becomes more constant and starts to affect daily living with possible stiffness

  • Stage 3 – Constant dull or aching pain with episodes of unpredictable, intense pain that severely reduces joint function

Other characteristics of pain in osteoarthritis can include:²

  • Joint pain that can be worse with joint use and relieved when resting

  • Joint pain that is generally worse in the late afternoon but it can also be worse in the morning after waking up

  • Night pain in severe osteoarthritis that affects sleep

  • Burning pain that is widespread around the joints and has prickly sensation

The pain development and persistence in osteoarthritis are sometimes associated with anxiety, depression, poor sleep quality and pain in other parts of the body.

2. Joint stiffness

Affected joints may feel stiff and have reduced range of motion, especially after inactivity.³ For example, when getting up in the morning or after resting on the couch for long periods.

Some may notice a change in symptoms related to the weather, particularly more joint pain and stiffness in cold or wet weather.³

3. Joint swelling

Osteoarthritis may cause a type of joint swelling which is caused by the accumulation of fluid in the joint called ‘effusion’. This is due to the inflammation of the joint tissues in osteoarthritis and can lead to reduced range of motion.³

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Knee deformities can be a sign of osteoarthritis although they may sometimes be caused by other diseases.

4. Joint deformity

Deformity in the joints usually indicates advanced joint damage.² These may include bony growths on the finger joints such as Bouchard’s node or Heberden’s node, and deformity of the knee joints like ‘knock knees’ or ‘bowed legs’.⁴

5. Joint crackling or grating

Movements of the joint may cause a crackling or grating sensation called ‘crepitus’. This likely occurs because of the rough surface of the affected joints that are usually smooth in the absence of osteoarthritis.

6. Joint instability

In knee osteoarthritis, one of the symptoms is the buckling or giving way of the knee. Some patients may stumble and fall but it is usually from the lack of confidence that their knees can bear weight.³ This is a primary sign of muscle weakness that can be due to joint deformities or other osteoarthritic changes.³


  • The signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis are diverse and vary across different individuals.

  • The main symptoms of osteoarthritis are joint pain and stiffness, especially after periods of inactivity.

  • It is important to recognise signs of osteoarthritis early on so preventive measures can be taken to slow the disease progression.


1. Chen D, Shen J, Zhao W, et al. Osteoarthritis: toward a comprehensive understanding of pathological mechanism. Bone Res. 2017 Jan 17;5:16044. doi:10.1038/boneres.2016.44

2. Doherty M, et al. Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of osteoarthritis. In: UpToDate, Post, TW (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA, 2021

3. Doherty M, et al. Patient education: Osteoarthritis symptoms and diagnosis (Beyond the Basics). In: UpToDate, Post, TW (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA, 2021

4. Hunter DJ, McDougall JJ, Keefe FJ. The symptoms of osteoarthritis and the genesis of pain. Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 2008;34(3):623-643

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational or educational purposes only, and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultations with healthcare professionals. The disclaimer also provides that no warranties are given in relation to the medical information supplied in the article, and that no liability will accrue to Miraco Nutripharm Pte Ltd or any affiliated authors in the event that a user suffers any loss as a result of reliance upon the information.


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