The earliest signs of osteoarthritis may include joint pain, tenderness, and stiffness. Joint damage and the severity of symptoms will usually worsen over time.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that causes the bones in the joints to thin and weaken. It is the most common type of arthritis, affecting approximately 32.5 million adults in the United States.

Osteoarthritis affects every person differently. For some people, it is mild, but for others, it can lead to life changing pain. The damage osteoarthritis causes increases over time, which can result in more severe symptoms.

In its earliest stages, this condition may cause symptoms such as aching and stiff joints at certain times of the day. The earlier a person can receive a diagnosis of osteoarthritis, the sooner they can receive treatment to manage the symptoms and delay progression.

This article highlights the earlier signs of osteoarthritis, where in the body a person may experience them, and how a doctor may treat them.

A person's hand clutching at their shoulder as they experience the early symptoms of osteoarthritis -1Share on Pinterest
sanjagrujic/Getty Images

Painful or aching joints are one of the primary symptoms of osteoarthritis.

According to a 2018 article, episodes of pain in the early stages of osteoarthritis are typically predictable. Certain activities may trigger pain in distinct areas. For example, walking up stairs may trigger pain in the knee joints.

Tenderness on and around a person’s joints can indicate the early stages of osteoarthritis. This symptom stems from pressure on areas on or around the joint.

Swelling may be visible around the joint, but this may be more prevalent in the later stages of osteoarthritis.

As well as experiencing symptoms after activities, people with osteoarthritis may experience a worsening of symptoms at the end of the day and at night.

However, this is more likely to occur as the condition progresses rather than in the earliest stages.

When intact, cartilage is an effective shock absorber, which helps to preserve the health of a person’s joints.

During the development of osteoarthritis, this cartilage gradually hardens, and crepitus can occur. Crepitus is a grinding sound that can happen when bone rubs against cartilage or other bones.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, a person with early osteoarthritis may also begin to hear their joints making sounds such as creaking, cracking, and popping.

During the early stages of osteoarthritis, a person may notice that certain areas of the body become less easy to move.

Any accompanying joint stiffness and pain can encourage a loss of flexibility that can affect a person’s lifestyle. An individual may experience a reduced range of motion in their joints, such as how far they can bend their knee.

Loss of flexibility in a person’s joints occurs slowly over time. In the early stages, it may be very mild. However, noticing it quickly can help people receive effective treatment to prevent it from worsening.

Osteoarthritis causes a variety of symptoms, but pain and stiffness are often the first to develop.

According to the National Institute on Aging, a person is most likely to experience osteoarthritis in the following areas:

Learn more about osteoarthritis in specific parts of the body:

According to the Arthritis Foundation, a person will need to speak with a doctor if they experience symptoms of arthritis that last for longer than 3 days or occur several times within a month.

Signs to be aware of include:

  • pain and swelling in the joints
  • joint tenderness
  • joint stiffness
  • redness on joints, though this may be difficult to see on darker skin
  • warmth around the joints
  • loss in the range of motion

A specialist doctor will advise a person on managing their symptoms and potentially delaying further development of the condition.

Nonpharmacological methods are the typical treatments for mild osteoarthritis. However, as the condition progresses, doctors may recommend a combination of medication and lifestyle changes to minimize pain and maintain quality of life.

The Arthritis Foundation recommends the following lifestyle measures to help manage symptoms:

  • Exercising: Low impact exercises that build muscle around the affected joints can ease stress on joints and improve a person’s balance to reduce the risk of falls and injury.
  • Stretching: Stretching can help to improve a person’s mobility and reduce joint stiffness.
  • Maintaining a moderate weight: For a person who has obesity or overweight, losing weight may reduce stress on weight-bearing joints.

Osteoarthritis causes a gradual deterioration of joints, often those that bear the most weight. In the earliest stages, people may notice pain or stiffening in their joints.

Common parts of the body to develop osteoarthritis can include the knees, hips, and hands.

If the early symptoms of osteoarthritis persist, a person should speak with a healthcare professional. A doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to help prevent further development of the condition and to maintain quality of life.