What Happens if Osteoarthritis is Left Untreated?

What Happens if Osteoarthritis is Left Untreated, Above Knee Pain, Leg pain on the right side

Osteoarthritis is arthritis when protective tissue between the joints starts to degenerate. Joint pain is one of the most common concerns of people in their 40s or above.

We tend to ignore the pain and consider it a part of growing old. However, that is not the case every time. An estimated 240 million adults have symptomatic osteoarthritis around the world.

Not treating osteoarthritis can deteriorate your joint tissue, making your basic daily movements difficult. Let’s take a look in more detail. 

Osteoarthritis – Overview


Osteoarthritis is also called degenerative arthritis. The joint is where two bones connect. This condition causes your joints to become stiff and painful. Cartilage is the protective tissue at the end of your bones and acts as a lubricant for joint function. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage (protective tissue) that cushions your bone end starts to break down.

There is no single cause of osteoarthritis. Instead, several things contribute to the “wear and tear” of your joints. It can damage any joint of your body, but joints of the knees, hips, and spine are commonly affected.

Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Osteoarthritis progress slowly and causes your joints to become painful and stiff. People suffering from osteoarthritis find difficulty in moving their affected joints.

 Some people also experience symptoms like:

  • Crackling or popping sounds while moving the affected joints.
  • Inflammation
  • Difficulty in motion of their affected joint.
  • Stiffed joints
  • Bone spurs or extra lumps of bones around the affected joint
  • Tenderness in the area while applying pressure with a finger on or around it.

Not everyone suffering from osteoarthritis will experience the same kind of symptoms. The symptoms vary significantly from person to person. For some people, pain and discomfort might come and go; whereas for some, the condition becomes severe and continuous.

Joints affected by Osteoarthritis

The joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis are the knees, hands, spine, lower back, and neck.

Knees – The knee is a weight-bearing part of the body. It is the commonly affected joint in osteoarthritis. When the cartilage between your knee joints breaks down, it causes the bone to rub together.

This direct contact between bones without protective tissue results in friction which causes swelling, stiffness, and pain in your knees. Knee osteoarthritis makes walking and climbing difficult, leading to disability of movement in severe conditions.

Hands – Hand osteoarthritis causes inflammation making your joints stiff and painful. When joints of the hands are affected by osteoarthritis, small bony knobs appear on the outermost joints of the finger, also known as Heberden’s nodes. Similar knobs appear on the middle part of the finger called Bouchard’s nodes.

Hips – Like knee osteoarthritis, hip osteoarthritis accompanies pain and stiffness. The cartilage between your joints starts thinner, causing the bones to rub against each other. Pain is sometimes felt in the inner thighs, buttocks, and knees. Hips osteoarthritis cause problem with bending and other movement related to the hip.

Spine – Spinal osteoarthritis causes the breakdown of the cartilage of the joints of the neck and lower back. As a result of the study of protective tissue, it causes neck and lower back pain and stiffness. 

It also results in numbness and weakness in the arms and legs when the condition is severe enough to affect spinal nerves. People are suffering from spine osteoarthritis experience discomfort in daily activities.

Osteoarthritis Treatment

Osteoarthritis is an irreversible and long-term condition. However, with proper care and medical attention, it does not get worse with time, and the state can improve gradually. 

Treatment options will help you most depending upon the severity of your osteoarthritis. Diet, lifestyle changes, and certain medications can provide you relief from symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and inflammation.

Treatment to reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis includes:

  • Medication to reduce pain and inflammation
  • Weight loss if you are overweight
  • Regular exercises
  • Physical therapy
  • Devices to reduce strain from the affected joints during daily activities

In rare cases, when medication and exercise do not help and the condition is severe, surgery is done to strengthen, repair, or replace the affected joints.

Complications of Osteoarthritis 

Osteoarthritis comes with physical complications, making the suffering person’s life difficult. Sometimes, people with this condition also have emotional difficulties.

Physical complications include:

  • Increase weight due to limited movement  
  • Erosion of ligaments
  • Severe Joint pain and stiffness make daily activities difficult.
  • Poor sleep

Emotional complications faced by a patient with osteoarthritis include anxiety and depression due to lack of daily movement and reduced loss of body function.

What Happens If Osteoarthritis Is Left Untreated?


Some people consider osteoarthritis as a part of the ageing process. This is when the problem becomes worse, as people tend to ignore it instead of taking treatment at an early stage. Ignoring the pain does not make the osteoarthritis go away; irather it makes the problem serious.

Not treating osteoarthritis can cause osteonecrosis, which is bone death, and it can cause a complete breakdown of the cartilage. It can also cause curved knees or bony points in the spine, which cause numbness and pain.

How quickly does osteoarthritis spread?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that advances slowly over time. Once a person suffers from this condition, it takes years to reach the severe stage. In a few cases, osteoarthritis causes cartilage to break down within a year.

There are mainly four stages of osteoarthritis.

Stage 1 – During this stage, the joints are not much affected. However, damage begins at the cellular level. A doctor might recommend lifestyle changes and a proper diet at this stage.

Stage 2 – At this stage, some cartilage starts to break down between joints, but the space between them won’t get any thinner—people at this stage experience mild pain in the joints.

Stage 3 – The cartilage in this stage begins to wear out. The distance between the joints becomes narrow. Symptoms like pain in walking, moving, and doing basic activities are experienced by the person suffering from this condition.

Stage 4 – This is a severe osteoarthritis stage wherein there is much less cartilage between the joints. The symptoms like pain, stiffness, and inflammation become severe. Factors that determine the rate of progression of osteoarthritis are as follows

  • The severity of your symptoms
  • Joint affected by this condition
  • The lifestyle worsens the condition by putting strain or overusing the affected joint.
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of medical attention

How Bad Can Osteoarthritis Get?

Intense pain and inflammation are the symptoms of severe osteoarthritis. When osteoarthritis worsens, the cartilage starts wearing down altogether, which causes the ends of the bone to get in contact with each other. Friction causes the bones to rub against each other during joint movement.


Will Osteoarthritis Cripple Me?

Osteoarthritis can cripple you if it is not treated. Study shows that osteoarthritis of the spine, knee, and hip is one of the significant reasons for restricted movement for patients above the age of 55 years. The cartilage between the joints starts to disintegrate.

What is the End Stage of Osteoarthritis?

At the end stage of osteoarthritis, the protective tissue between the ends of the joints starts to break down completely. The pain, inflammation, and stiffness become so severe that mobility and function get restricted.

In the end stage, nonsurgical treatments, like injections and medication, become ineffective. In such cases, surgeries like joint replacement, joint fusion, and distraction arthroplasty are done.



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