Warning Signs of Osteoarthritis

Typically, osteoarthritis develops gradually. The first signs of osteoarthritis may have you wondering what's happening. It's important for you to recognize the four warning signs of osteoarthritis.

osteoarthritis in the knee
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Pain in One or More Joints

Only about a third of patients who have X-ray evidence of osteoarthritis experience pain or other osteoarthritis symptoms. In other words, an X-ray can reveal severe osteoarthritis in a joint, but the level of pain you feel, if any, can differ.

Pain that is aggravated by activity and relieved by rest is suggestive of osteoarthritis. That kind of pain serves as a warning sign of osteoarthritis.

Joint Stiffness

Stiffness in a joint, related to osteoarthritis, can occur after getting out of bed in the morning or after sitting for long periods of time. With osteoarthritis, joint stiffness after waking may last up to 30 minutes.

With inflammatory types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus, the stiffness typically lasts more than 45 minutes.

Swelling in One or More Joints

A small amount of fluid exists in normal joints. When a joint is affected by arthritis, increased abnormal amounts of fluid build-up, making the joint swollen. The excess fluid is produced by the soft tissues that surround and line the joints.


Crepitus in a joint can indicate cartilage wear in the joint space. The term crepitus is taken directly from the Latin crepitus, meaning "a crackling sound or rattle." In terms of osteoarthritis, crepitus is a crunching feeling, like the sound of bone rubbing on bone.

A Word From Verywell

If you experience any or all of the warning signs, consult with your healthcare provider. Your practitioner can examine you and order tests that serve to confirm or rule out the suspected diagnosis.

If the affected joint is warm or red, the indication would be more in line with rheumatoid arthritis or another inflammatory type of arthritis, rather than osteoarthritis.

Your healthcare provider will begin early and appropriate treatment after he carries out the diagnostic phase. It's important that you not ignore warning signs. By recognizing them, you can be treated and decrease the risk of disability.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • National Institutes of Health: National Institue of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Osteoarthritis.

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer who covers arthritis and chronic illness. She is the author of "The Everything Health Guide to Arthritis."