Osteoarthritis Joint Pain

Osteoarthritis affects different joints in different ways. Knee joint pain, for instance, presents in a manner that is entirely different from finger joint pain. Osteoarthritis pain varies in severity from pain so mild that many people don’t even notice it, to so severe that mobility and quality of life are compromised.

The Ankles, Hips, Knees and the Sacro-Iliac Joints

Osetoarthritis occurs most frequently in weight-bearing joints, so the knees, ankles and hips are common targets for the disease. Lower body motor skills are likely to be affected, making sitting, rising from a reclining or sitting position, and walking difficult. Here are some of the symptoms and problems associated with arthritis affecting the weight-bearing joints:

Type of Joint Pain Symptoms and Complications Effect on Daily Living
Ankle Joint Pain Pain occurs at the onset of activity, and after completing activity. In advanced cases, pain can be present even if the joint is at rest. The affected joint may swell with fluid. Ankle joint pain may cause the muscles around the ankle to briefly stop working, causing stumbles or falls.
Knee Joint Pain Knee joint pain occurs most often when the joint is weight-bearing, although it can become constant over time. The joint may change shape due to bone spur formation. A “bow-legged” appearance is not uncommon. Limping often occurs due to the pain. Over time, as the joint becomes unable to fully straighten, mobility is affected. Chronic knee joint pain may disturb sleep patterns.
Hip Joint Pain Osteoarthritis may strike one or both of the hipbones. In either case, hip joint pain first becomes noticeable when the joint is in use. Over time, the pain may continue even if the joint is at rest. Limping often occurs as the body tries to compensate for hip joint pain. Over time, bone spurs develop, reducing mobility.
Sacro-Iliac Joint Pain Sacro-iliac joint pain radiates outwards. It may be perceived as back pain, or pain in the legs and buttocks. Sacro-iliac joint pain impairs mobility.

The sacro-iliac joint is the joint that connects the sacrum (triangle-shaped “wedge” of bone at the base of the spine) with the two hip joints. Sacro-iliac joint pain is often misdiagnosed as hip or back pain, as the pain tends to radiate to these areas.

Hand Joints: Fingers, Thumbs and Wrists

Osteoarthritis in hand joints affects fine motor skills. The ability to perform everyday tasks such as opening jars, picking up small items, writing, and buttoning a shirt can be affected by arthritis in these joints. While the pain is not generally as intense as it is in the weight-bearing joints, hand joint pain can be debilitating in severe cases.

Type of Joint Pain Symptoms and Complications Affect on Daily Living
Finger Joint Pain Bone spur growth may give the affected finger joint a deformed, “bumpy” appearance. Pain is most common when the finger joint is in use. Grip strength can be affected by finger joint pain. Fine motor skill deterioration makes simple tasks more difficult.
Thumb Joint Pain Osteoarthritis pain in the thumb usually occurs as the joint begins to perform an action. The pain diminishes while using the joint, but returns for a while accompanied by stiffness, once the joint is at rest. Because the thumb is vital to grip, osteoarthritis of the thumb often reduces the ability to grasp items properly.
Wrist Joint Pain Like the thumb, the arthritic wrist tends to hurt most when starting or after finishing a task. Wrist joint pain may cause the surrounding muscles to stop working without warning, causing sufferers to drop whatever they are holding at the time.

The Shoulder and Elbow Joint

The shoulder and elbow joints are also susceptible to osteoarthritis. Grinding sensations in the shoulder along with reduced range of motion are common. Pain from arthritic shoulders can make sleep difficult.

As arthritis of the elbow joint progresses the joint can become very difficult to straighten and bend. The joint may grind and swelling often occurs. Elbows are very sensitive to injury, so relatively mild arthritis can lead to significant loss of mobility.


Brigham and Women’s Hospital. (updated 2004). Osteoarthritis.

Colorado Springs Orthopaedic Group. (2001). A patient’s guide to osteoarthritis of the elbow. Hand University.