Most often, osteoarthritis develops slowly and gradually. It may start as soreness which seems to temporarily go away. Or a joint stiffness that seems a nuisance rather than a medical concern. My elderly mother complains of knee pain when she walks, or attempts stairs. But any other time, she does not mention any sort of lingering soreness. In very general cases, pain may be moderate, intermittent and not interfere with your day-to-day existence. But it may also progress to debilitating pain. Osteoarthritis most commonly occurs in the weight-bearing joints of the hips, knees and lower back. It can also affect the neck, elbow, finger joints, the base of the thumb and the big toe.

The most common signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis are:

– Joint soreness after periods of overuse or inactivity.
– Stiffness after periods of rest – even thought it may go away when activity resumes.
– Morning stiffness, which usually lasts no more than 30 minutes.
– Pain caused by the weakening of muscles surrounding the joint due to inactivity.

We generally assume osteoarthritis is characteristic of the elderly. But many, many middle aged people have joint pain — shoulders, hands, knees, elbows. Some people’s osteoarthritis will never progress past a moderate pain level, which is most characteristic of early stage arthritis. Joint pain is usually less in the morning and worse in the evening after a day’s activity. Many others will have osteoarthritis progress to a point where it interferes with daily activities. Think about having constant knee pain while walking; going up/down stairs; or riding a bike. Or pain associated with the simple act of holding a pen in your hand; or using a knife and fork at dinner. The joint pain can make sleeping difficult.

As the joint deterioration progresses, you may notice bodily coordination lessens. Posture may be adversely effected as the body compensates for the pain and joint stiffness. On rare occasions, someone with osteoarthritis will experience sudden signs of inflammation and pain, causing redness and swelling.

The most important thing you can do if you suspect you have any form of arthritis is to get a proper medical diagnosis – including medical history, an exam, and X-rays – and begin a treatment regimen prescribed by your physician.