What Does Arthritis Look Like? An Illustrated Guide

Types of Arthritis and Images

Common symptoms of arthritis include joint pain, stiffness, decreased range of motion, and swelling. Symptoms can be intermittent and come and go, or may be chronic and progressive in nature, getting worse over time. Arthritis can vary in intensity, from mild or moderate symptoms to severe disability that makes everyday tasks and functional movements like standing and walking very difficult and painful.1

People diagnosed with arthritis are also more like to:1

  • Have poor health
  • Be obese
  • Have heart disease
  • Have diabetes
  • Suffer from anxiety or depression 

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States that results in millions of lost work days, hospitalizations, and outpatient visits to a healthcare provider. Arthritis is also the most common chronic condition that leads to chronic abuse of prescription opioid medications for pain relief in the United States.1


Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, affects more than 30 million Americans. While many people associate osteoarthritis with the wear-and-tear that the body’s joints endure over time with aging, more than half of Americans affected by osteoarthritis are under the age of 65. 1

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, although it is most common in the back and spine, hips, knees, neck and shoulders, and fingers and hands. Anyone who repetitively overuses their joints, including athletes, military personnel, and those with physically demanding jobs, may be at an increased risk for developing arthritis.1

Cartilage is a form of connective tissue that covers the end of each bone in the body and provides cushioning and shock absorption to the joints, allowing them to move smoothly. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage breaks down over time, causing pain and increased difficulty moving the joints. Bones may begin to break down with worsening arthritis, resulting in painful excess growth of bone called bone spurs, or osteophytes, that can cause further damage to the cartilage.1 In severe osteoarthritis, the cartilage wears down so much that bone rubs directly against bone with movement of the joints, causing increased pain, inflammation, and joint damage.1

Osteoarthritis is more common among men under the age of 45, but more common among women over 45. Women over 60 are twice as likely to develop arthritis symptoms than men. Risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis or progressing symptoms include:1

  • Older age
  • Genetics
  • Obesity
  • Low bone density
  • History of trauma or joint injury
  • Low levels of physical activity
arthritis of knee
ZEPHYR / Getty Images

Arthritis in the Back and Spine

Arthritis of the spine often occurs with aging, but can progress faster in people who have poor posture, are very sedentary, do not exercise, or are overweight.

Symptoms of spinal arthritis include:2

  • Low back pain
  • Stiffness in the spine and loss of range of motion
  • Tenderness over the affected vertebrae of the spine
  • Possible nerve root compression 

Arthritis of the spine can cause degenerative narrowing of the openings in the vertebrae where the spinal cord and nerve roots sit. If the narrowing is severe, compression of the spinal cord or nerve roots can develop, causing radiating pain into the hips and legs, resulting in a condition called spinal stenosis. Other symptoms include numbness, weakness, burning, or tingling in the legs.

 Yoga Tips for Spinal Arthritis

X-ray image of lambosacral spine or L-S spine lateral view from patient lower back
mr.suphachai praserdumrongchai / Getty Images

Hip Arthritis

Osteoarthritis of the hip usually affects people over 50 years old and occurs when the cartilage in the ball and socket joint of the hip wears down over time from aging or injury. Pain and stiffness develop in the hip, and are usually worse in the morning, after prolonged sitting, or upon waking in the morning.

Other symptoms of hip osteoarthritis include:3

  • Groin or thigh pain
  • Grinding or clicking of the hip joint
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Increased pain with weather-related pressure changes

When symptoms of hip arthritis are severe, standing and walking become difficult and painful. If they do not improve with conservative treatment options, total hip replacement surgery may be performed to reduce pain and improve function.

 What Does Having Your Hip Replaced Actually Entail?

Osteoarthritis of the hip, X-ray
ZEPHYR / Getty Images

Knee Arthritis   

The prevalence of knee osteoarthritis has been increasing in the United States each year. It is estimated that 45% of all Americans will develop knee osteoarthritis sometime in their lifetime, and of those diagnosed, 54% will receive a total knee replacement to treat their symptoms. 1

A total knee replacement is often the last resort used to treat severe symptoms of knee osteoarthritis when the cartilage of the knee joint has significantly worn down, limiting everyday activities and making standing, walking, and going up and down stairs very challenging and painful. On average, patients spend approximately 13 years trialing conservative measures, especially pain medications, to manage symptoms of knee osteoarthritis before undergoing surgery.1

Common athletic injuries including anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) ruptures, meniscus tears, and patellar (kneecap) dislocations place patients at an increased risk for developing knee osteoarthritis later on. Approximately 50% of patients who suffered an ACL rupture will develop knee osteoarthritis between five and 15 years after injury.1

 How to Tell as ACL Injury From a PCL Injury

Arthritic knees, X-ray

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