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How does osteoarthritis affect the body?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Besides deterioration of cartilage between bones, osteoarthritis can affect the body in other ways. When the body tries to repair tissue damage in a particular joint, it will trigger the growth of bone, cartilage, and tissues. This growth actually can increase the size of the joint. In the back, for instance, this enlargement can actually lead to weakened limbs because the extra bone is now pressing on nerves. The disorder may also affect ligaments causing them to extend beyond their intended capacity and resulting in stiffness and inflexibility.

The knee is the largest weight-bearing joint in the body and therefore most commonly affected by osteoarthritis. Affected knees may be stiff, swollen and painful, making it hard to walk, climb, sit down in and get up out of chairs, and get into the bathtub. If not treated, osteoarthritis in the knees can lead to disability. Medications, losing weight, exercise and walking aids can reduce pain and disability. In severe cases, knee-replacement surgery may be helpful.

The disease often affects both knees and causes most problems after the sufferer reaches his or her late 50s. A previous injury or operation may cause osteoarthritis in only one knee. Sometimes there is no obvious cause. Pain is usually felt at the front and sides of the knee.

Osteoarthritis of the knee is more common in women than in men. Obesity and having osteoarthritis of the hand with nodes increase the risk of osteoarthritis of the knee in women.

You may develop osteoarthritis in other areas as well:

  • Osteoarthritis of the foot primarily affects the joint at the base of the big toe. Over time, the toe may become bent and develop painful bunions. The joint also may become stiff, making the joint rigid and walking difficult.
  • Osteoarthritis of the hands is much more common among Caucasians than among other ethnic groups.
  • Osteoarthritis of the fingers is the one type of the disease that seems to be hereditary. Osteoarthritis of the fingers mainly affects women, especially after menopause. It primarily affects the joints at the end of the fingers and the joint at the base of the thumb. When the condition first appears, which tends to be when the woman is in her 40s or 50s, these joints can be red, swollen, and tender.
  • Osteoarthritis of the hip may affect one or both hips and can cause pain, stiffness and severe disability. Hip pain is felt mostly when the hip has to bear weight. The pain is felt mainly in the front of the groin, but sometimes around the side and front of the thigh and the buttock. Sometimes the pain radiates down to the knee. In affected hip joints, the range of motion is reduced and painful.
  • Osteoarthritis of the spine is called spondylosis and is found mostly in the neck and the back. The condition is commonly seen in x-rays and rarely causes problems such as pain and stiffness in the spine. Indeed, most back pain is not caused by osteoarthritis of the spine.

Continue Learning about Affects of Osteoarthritis on the Body

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.