Because osteoarthritis develops slowly, many individuals do not experience symptoms until several years after cartilage breakdown begins. Common symptoms include joint pain, swelling and/or stiffness in a joint (especially after use), joint discomfort before or during a change in the weather, bony lumps on the fingers, and loss of joint flexibility. The joints that are most often affected by osteoarthritis include the fingers, spine, and weight-bearing joints, such as the hips, ankles, feet, and knees. Stiffness in the joint may occur after inactivity, such as upon rising in the morning or after a long car ride.
Once symptoms develop, they are generally the worst during the first year of the disease. Pain often is described as a deep ache and is confined to the affected joint, called localized pain. In most cases, pain increases with use of the joint and subsides with rest. However, as the disease progresses, pain may become persistent. Osteoarthritis may cause pain at night that interferes with sleep.
If individuals overuse the affected joints and do not receive treatment, the cartilage in the joints may wear down completely. When this happens, the bone may rub against bone, causing severe pain and joint damage.
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