Which joints does osteoarthritis affect?

Any joint can be affected by osteoarthritis (OA) but the disease occurs most commonly in joints that have experienced repetitive stress or injury.

Knee: The knee is the most common lower-limb joint affected by OA. People with OA often experience knee pain when doing routine activities such as walking and going up and down stairs.

Hip: OA of the hip can be deceptive. Some people feel pain in the groin area, while others feel pain in the buttocks, front of the thigh, sides of the hips, or lower back. Some of these pain symptoms are not necessarily due to OA of the hip. They may be due to conditions in other areas causing pain in the hip region, known as “referred” pain. Likewise, patients can be surprised when their doctor tells them the problem is their hip joint when they experience pain elsewhere.

Hand: OA of the hand is commonly linked to a family history of the condition. What causes osteoarthritis? In the fingers, symptoms include pain and swelling of the joints. In the thumb, pain is most commonly experienced at the base of the thumb and worsens with gripping and pinching movements.

Foot and ankle: OA can affect the ankle and the joints within the foot, commonly the joint at the base of the big toe. This causes pain when walking and can result in swelling or deformity at the joint that can lead to the formation of bunions. In addition to the big toe, bunions can have a “knock on” effect when the angle and displacement of the big toe results in the second toe putting pressure on the third toe. Bunions have the potential to compound foot pain and deformity.

Back and neck: The first sign of OA is typically stiffness or pain. In general, once the source of the pain is identified, an OA diagnosis is straightforward. Unfortunately, an OA diagnosis of the back and neck is not always straightforward. Although back pain is very common, definitively diagnosing the source of back pain is a challenge. Is the cause OA (a joint problem) or is it something else (a disc or injury-related problem)? The challenge arises because osteoarthritic changes in the spine seen on x-ray and other imaging studies do not always cause pain. Since the incidence of OA increases with age, you may indeed have OA in your older back but the source of your pain may be another condition, injury, or disease.