What Are The Complications of OA? 

 December 7, 2021

By  Linda Rook


Osteoarthritis, or another name is OA for short; it’s a chronic disease where there is no cure and can get worse over time. OA attacks your joints.  In a healthy joint, you have smooth and slippery cartilages that cover the ends of your joints. The cartilages allow the bones to glide over each other when you move.

When you have OA, these flexible rubber-like joint tissues over time breakdown.  The cartilage helps to cushion your joints and therefore protects the bones. However, the joint wears away when you have OA, so they are rubbing and grinding together when you move your joints.  Once this happens, the cartilage breaks down and cannot grow back, this can have problems and complications.

The most cause of OA is the wear and tear of repeated motions; it can also be caused by age or could be an injury. This wear and tear can be in any joints but mostly in your hands, knees, hips and spine.

There are two types of osteoarthritis which are primary and secondary.

Primary osteoarthritis is the most common one; it mainly attacks the toes (usually the large toe), fingers, thumbs, hips, spine and knees. 

The secondary osteoarthritis develops when you have a joint injury or abnormality, for example a sports injury, genetic disorder or even RA.

Complications of Osteoarthritis.

Pain and Stiffness.

Pain and stiffness of your joints’ worsening over time.  It is mostly worse when you wake up in the morning, where you are stiff from not moving around. Then, you will notice a scraping, crunching or grinding in your joints every time you move. The doctors call this crepitus.

Mobility and Physical Challenges.

When you live with OA over time, you will find that your joints become more stiff, weak and painful.  Therefore, you will not be able to do the things you used to do. For example, you may find it difficult to get around and even do household chores, bend down and even climb the stairs.

You are more prone to fall and hurt yourself in the course of your daily life. Therefore, you should consult your doctor with a plan to lessen the risk of falls.

Other complications.

In addition to the above, you could also develop joint-related complications such as:

  • A rapid breakdown of your cartilages.
  • Bone death or ‘osteonecrosis’.
  • Stress fractures are hairline cracks that develop with repeated stress and use.
  • You could even get an infection and bleeding in the joint.
    The ligaments and tendons could lead to rupture or deterioration; therefore, joint instability.
  • Especially the spine could have pinched nerves.

Health Conditions.

When you don’t do much exercise, it means that you are at a high risk of:

Weight gain – I know you would like to sit and do nothing, but it’s the worst thing you could do. So instead, it would help if you went on a diet to help you lose weight. 

Please click here for diets to help you get started.

High blood pressure – overweight can cause high blood pressure and not enough exercise if you drink alcohol or smoke or cannot sleep well.

Heart disease – or CHD (Coronary Heart Disease).   CHD develops when your arteries and blood vessels which leads to your heart, blocks the nutrients and oxygen from reaching your heart.

Other risk factors for heart disease include:

  • Obesity and being physically inactive.
  • Insulin Resistance or Diabetes.
  • high Cholesterol and Blood Pressure.
  • Family history of heart disease.
  • Smoking.
  • Eating an unhealthy diet.
  • Clinical Depression.


When you have type 2 diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis and gout. This could be the cause of obesity, which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.

But when you have type 1 diabetes, you are at a significantly higher risk of having rheumatoid arthritis as both conditions are autoimmune diseases. In addition, research has found that specific genes could increase your risk of both conditions.

High cholesterol.

You are more likely to have raised blood cholesterol than people with no osteoarthritis. Researchers have found that lowering blood cholesterol may improve your OA.  It is important that if you have high cholesterol, you should change your diet.

Sleep Problems.

Osteoarthritis pain could stop you from sleeping. You may wake up several times during the night or find it hard to fall asleep.

Lack of sleep can cause problems; for example, your pain could worsen, and you may get depression, worsening your OA symptoms and limiting your movements.

There are some remedies if you are not getting enough sleep, they are:

  • First, avoid caffeine or alcohol in the evening.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet.
  • Third, keep up a certain routine: have a hot bath, read or light stretches if you can.
  • Fourth, avoid any noisy activities or any problematic debates near bedtime.

Joint Damage.

Joint damage could course problems like:

1.    you could have a pinched nerve in your spine, called spinal stenosis.

2.    This second one is rare, but you could have an infection in the joint.

3.    Your tendons or ligaments that are around your joints could develop thinning or tearing, leaving the joint unstable.

4.    Destruction – A sudden destruction of your cartilage, leaving the joint with loose tissues.

5.    Repeated stress could develop a hairline fracture in your bone which progresses slowly.

6.    The last one is ‘Baker’s Cysts’, these are lumps of soft fluid that starts behind the knee.  They mainly give you no pain, but they can press on your blood vessels which causes leg swelling and burst, which causes pain.

Treatment for Osteoarthritis Complications.

You will not be alone, as you can ask your doctor to help you treat and manage your OA complications.  But the treatment depends on you and which way you go.

The first thing to do is to manage your symptoms with medication, or you could buy a heat pack or ice pack, physical therapy, in severe cases or a last resort, your doctor could recommend surgery.

Physio, Balancing Ball

Symptoms and signs of Osteoarthritis.

The main first sign of OA is that your joint will become painful, and over time will worsen, rather than suddenly, and not go away after a rest.  As the disease develops, you will find that the pain will be more severe, and it will linger, even if you have rested. 

Symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

  • When you are using the joint, this will become painful, but after a rest, it will ease. However, your pain can worsen at night when sleeping in one position.
  •   Your joint stiffness will be more in the morning and often lasts less than thirty minutes. 
  • After heavy use of your joint, swelling will occur around the joint.
  •  Your range of mobility will reduce.
  • You will have an unstable or loose feeling inside your joint.

Most Common affected Joints.

Osteoarthritis can develop in any of your joints. but it often attacks the knee, hips, spine and hands.

Osteoarthritis in the Knee.

When you have OA in the knee, you can feel a grating or scraping when you move around.  The joint can also make a popping or cracking noise; this is called ‘crepitus’, and it becomes unstable in some cases; the knee could bend inwards.

You may have fluid building up around the joint, and a fluid sack ‘baker’s cyst’ could develop behind your knee.

Osteoarthritis in the Hip.

inflammation of the knee
Hip Joint

When you get OA in the hip, you may feel pain in the hip and the groin and buttocks.  The pain can sometimes expand to the inside of your knee or thigh. 

A hip replacement can be done, but there are complications with everything. When I had my hip replacement done 30 years ago, I had my right hip replaced when I fell on my knee, but now I have one leg longer than the other. They have made the right leg ¾ inches longer than the left.  Giving me pain in my lower back where I am not level, and the last two discs are not straight where I have been walking wonky for years.  I have lived like this all this time, and the doctors say they cannot do anything for me.

Osteoarthritis in the Spine.

OA in the spine can limit your motions as it causes pain when you move. In addition, pinched nerves or ‘nerve impingement’ can cause sensory loss, reflex loss and weakness in your lower extremities; this can lead to your legs being weak or cramps.


Osteoarthritis in the hand.

This is difficult for those of you who type, as OA in the hands can be painful when moving your finger joints. In addition, bone spurs can occur at the edges of the joints and can lead to swollen, tender and red fingers.

Wonky Arthritic Hand

The pain often starts at the base of the thumb, and then bony bumps called ‘Heberden nodes and Bouchard nodes’ are formed.

The Heberden’s nodes are swellings of the joints that are the first knuckles from the top of your fingers or the knuckles closest to your fingernails called ‘DIP joints’.

Osteoarthritis in the Foot.

People with OA in their feet start in the big toe and feel tender and painful.  The other toes and ankles may become swollen.  You may also feel it hard to walk as the pain is too much.  Also, people may develop a ‘Hallux Valgus Deformity’, which is a deformity that can occur when the big toe becomes out of alignment; this causes the bone to have a lump sum may call it a bunion.

x-ray foot

Risk Factor.

Researchers have found that certain people are at a higher risk of developing OA. For example, OA can be genetic, or injury to the joints or other diseases could develop OA.

Doctors think OA is caused by inflammation and defective repair to an injury, wearing down the joint over time.

The risk factors are:

A joint injury could also be overuse of the joint that stresses the joint and can damage it; this could be repeating bending or for your knees squatting.

Old age – the elderly are at a higher risk of developing this disease, increasing as they age.

Sex– women are more likely to get OA than men, particularly after the age of fifty.

Overweight – people that are overweight or obese are at a high risk as they are putting more stress on their joints, for example, their knees and hips. 

Hereditary – people with OA family members are also at high risk of getting the disease. Also, with specific genes.

Ethnicity – according to the clinical trial and observational study, they have found that Asian women have a low risk of OA.  But African American and non-white Hispanic women are at high risk. 

There are other risks with OA that have a two-point-five times greater risk of getting three or more other conditions that include:

  • Stroke.
  • Peptic Ulcers.
  • Metabolic Syndrome.
  • Hypertension and depression.
Heart Attack

People with OA are unable to be mobile and active; this may lead to diabetes and heart disease.

According to the ‘arthritis Foundation’, when you have OA, you are also at a thirty per cent more risk of falls and twenty per cent greater risk of fractures.

Diagnosing Osteoarthritis.

When you have had pain in your joints for more than one or two weeks, you may have arthritis, so you need to make an appointment with your doctor.

Your doctor will give you a physical examination and see your medical history. Then, if necessary, they may take you to have an x-ray to confirm the diagnosis and rule out any other conditions. For example, an x-ray can see if there is still cartilage between the joint bones. Also, they can see if there is bone spurs or cysts.  You may need to go for a more advanced x-ray called an MRI scan in complex cases.

When your doctor thinks you may have rheumatoid arthritis or gout, they may suggest that you need a blood test.  But OA, you don’t need one as this is not an inflammatory disease.

Osteoarthritis and its stages.

OA has four stages: symptoms from mild to severe, and the treatment varies by stage.

When you are in the early stages of OA, you could take supplements and modify your exercises to minimize your joint damage. But, if you have late-stage disease, you may need surgery to relieve your joint pain and loss of movement.


Stage one means that the disease has minor wear and tear of the joints and will feel little to no pain.  Your doctor may not treat your symptoms but may advise your supplements and modify your exercises to protect your joints.


Stage two, your doctor may ask for x-rays to find if you have bone spurs at the joints, and you will feel more pain and stiffness will start especially when you have a long period of rest or after doing activities. 


By this stage, your joints will be stiff during a typical day, causing your cartilage to wear down further and inflame the joints. At this stage, you could be asked to take over-the-counter medication and prescribed pain medication. 


By this stage, you will experience more severe pain, and this is because your cartilage is nearly gone, and more bone spurs.  The joint will become more difficult in moving and stiff.  Your fingers will make gripping difficult, and in your feet and knees, walking will become painful and difficult.  The main treatment for this last stage is a prescription for pain killers and surgery.

Treatment options


The medication on prescription will mainly be pain relief and inflammation relief.  These may include over-the-counter pain relief called ‘Tylenol’ and NSAIDs; this includes ibuprofen gel, which I have and could recommend.

For those of you that have severe pain, your doctor will prescribe stronger NSAIDs in the form of gels or creams, which may have fewer side effects.


There are two types of therapy that can help OA patients, physical therapy and occupational therapy.

The difference between them is that physical therapy helps you learn to do exercises to strengthen your joints and reduce the pain and increase flexibility.

Occupational therapy teaches you how to modify your movements to lessen the strains in your joints. Occupational therapy also assists you with devices like a chair for the shower.

Joint Injection or Surgery.

If the above doesn’t work, your specialist may recommend having surgery or joint injection.

Joint injection.

The joint injection I received was a cortisone injection where the surgeon numbed around the affected joint. Then, they injected the Corticosteroid right into the joint, which relieved the pain.  But these injections are limited to three times a year as they could damage the joints, so I cannot have any more.  The joints that often get injected are big joints like the shoulders, elbow, knees, hand or hips.

Lubrication injections.

Another treatment is lubrication injections; these help cushion weight-bearing joints like the knees.  The injection is similar to medicine to occur joint fluid naturally.


Osteotomy is a surgical procedure that helps realign the bones that have more damage from the right side to the left.

The procedure is done by removing a wedge of your bone to shift your body weight from the worn-out side of the knee.

Joint Replacement Surgery.

Joint replacement is mainly done on severe forms of OA.  Knee replacement or another word ‘Arthroplasty’ replaces the joint which is worn-out, dead or damaged with an artificial joint. 

You could have a knee replacement at any age, although most knee replacements occur between the ages of sixty to eighty.

Surgeons can also do hip replacement (as with myself) or shoulder replacement. However, joint replacement can wear out over time; this may require revision surgery to replace the worn-out joint.

Support devices.

These devices help people with mobility of OA.  They could include walking sticks, crutches and supportive shoes.

As with many cases, the hip replacement may leave you with one leg longer than the other like myself, a supportive shoe, where the left has a block, which keeps my spine straight as I am on the same level when I walk around and it alleviates the pain in my lower back, hips and knees.

You can ask your therapist what supportive devices you may need.

Home Treatments.

You can manage with simple home treatments when you have only a mild OA. 

But before doing any of the exercises or treatment, consult with your doctor or therapist.

The below remedies can relieve your pains and can help you with your daily life:

•     Stretching exercise – this can help to improve your stability, flexibility, and range of movement.

•     Sleeping – Try using a pillow under the arm and/or between the knees to prevent pressure on the joints.

I use two pillows under my legs, a half-folded cushion for my arm, and a heating pad which I lay on for my spine.

•     Hot or cold pads are used to relieve the pain, as this helps your circulation and ease muscle spasms. 

•     When you have done exercises, an ice pack can help with the pain.

WARNING - don’t put the ice pack straight onto your skin.

•     You also need to control your weight with a rich in fruit and vegetables, whole grains and lean meat. In addition, you should avoid processed, high-sugar and high-fat foods.

•     Lastly, you need to educate yourself about OA and a better lifestyle.

I hope this article has helped you. Please subscribe to my website, and I will keep you updated on new blogs. Also, if you need to know anything about arthritis, please go to my contact page and leave a message, and I will get back to you.

I hope this article has helped you. Please subscribe to my website, and I will keep you updated on new blogs. Also, if you need to know anything about arthritis, please go to my contact page and leave a message, and I will get back to you.

In the meantime, if this post is informative, I’d be very grateful if you’d help your friends or family if they have a similar condition to tell them. So please share it on Twitter or Facebook or send them an email.

I am not a medical professional, and this blog is for information only. If you have any worries you should consult your doctor.

I hope this blog has helped.

Linda Rook

Linda is now retired and has suffered from Osteoarthritis for about 40+ years.  She struggled with her weight until she found the correct one that also helped with her arthritic pain.  Linda was in terrible pain until the physician thought her right hip needed replacement. 

Now Linda has an artificial right hip, which has left her with the left leg shorter than the right.  Therefore, her spine is now wonky, and has arthritis of the lower back, also it seems to be going all over the body, her pain is now in the knees, elbow, wrist, fingers and both hips.

Linda now spends her days writing information to help others with the same conditions, so they do not suffer like Linda.

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