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Osteoarthritis Symptoms and Diagnosis

Osteoarthritis Symptoms and Diagnosis

What are early signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis?

Skelton showing joints affected by osteoarthritisOsteoarthritis (OA) usually progresses slowly over a period of months or years. Early on, osteoarthritis symptoms tend to come and go. Over time, as damage accumulates, symptoms can become more constant, occurring at rest and disturbing sleep. The good news is that symptoms can improve with treatment, even if the disease process itself is unchanged. Symptoms may be experienced in the joint or outside of the joint as well.

The joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis are the knees, hips, big toes, hands and spine. OA affects everyone differently, but common symptoms include joint pain, aching, morning stiffness lasting less than 30 minutes, reduced range of movement in the affected joint(s) and possibly swelling. The symptoms may come and go, but the intensity of pain can increase over time given that OA is a progressive disease.

Common osteoarthritis joint symptoms include:

Woman with osteoarthritis knee pain

Osteoarthritis symptoms outside the joint may include:

Fatigued person with osteoarthritis

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How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

Diagnosing osteoarthritis with a x-rayThere is no single test for OA. The diagnosis can be made based on your symptoms and physical examination findings. If you are over the age of 40 and have symptoms typical of OA, your doctor will probably not do an x-ray. It is helpful to know that symptoms of osteoarthritis do not always match what is found on x-rays. For example, in early OA, your x-rays may not reflect the symptoms you are experiencing, and later in the disease process, the damage shown on an x-ray may appear more severe than the symptoms you feel.

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What are the risk factors for osteoarthritis?

Risk factors that may increase your chances of developing OA include the following:

Woman with osteoarthritis

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What is the osteoarthritis patient journey?

Diagnosing osteoarthritis with doctorA patient journey is the sequence of events that an osteoarthritis patient experiences, from the first signs of symptoms to diagnosis and later to treatment and management. Not all steps will apply to everyone, but this can help you learn more about what you might expect and how to effectively manage your osteoarthritis.


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How common is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. More than 4 million Canadians have osteoarthritis (OA), more than all other types of arthritis combined. About 1 in 7 Canadian adults live with the impact of this progressive, painful disease.

These findings shine a light on the unrecognized burden of OA at all ages, including young adulthood. These insights and others were derived from a special report entitled The Burden of Osteoarthritis in Canada (2021) by the Arthritis Community Research and Evaluation Unit (ACREU) commissioned by the Arthritis Society. Learn more on our Arthritis Facts and Figures page.


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This osteoarthritis resource was reviewed in February 2021 with expert advice from:

Dr. Sarah E. Ward, MD, FRCSC
Orthopaedic Surgeon, Division of Orthopaedic Surgery
St. Michael’s Hospital
Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery
University of Toronto

Members of the Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance Steering Committee, including:

  • Linda Wilhelm
  • Janet Gunderson
  • Therese Lane
  • Louise Crane

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This resource was made possible through unrestricted educational grants from:

Arthritis alliance of Canada