• Osteoarthritis;
  • Aging;
  • Health changes;
  • Participation;
  • Focus groups;
  • Patient perceptions



To compare the health experiences of middle- and older-age adults with moderate osteoarthritis (OA) symptoms with experiences of individuals with no chronic health conditions. Similarities and differences in health changes, the meaning of these changes, and their impact were examined.


Sixteen focus groups (10 OA, 6 control) were conducted with 53 women and 37 men (age 39–88 years). OA participants were recruited from practitioners' offices and The Arthritis Society, Ontario Division. Additional OA participants and controls were recruited from community centers and newspaper advertisements. All participants were asked about changes in health, the impact of these changes, and self-management strategies. Participants also completed standardized measures including demographic information; the Short Form 36; Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index; and Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand questionnaire.


Differences in the depth, breadth, and meaning of symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and fatigue were reported with little overlap between OA and control groups. OA was often seen as part of a normal aging process requiring acceptance, not treatment. However, younger OA participants reported more distress and frustration managing the disease. OA participants reported an impact of their health on work, leisure, social activities, and relationships that was described as upsetting compared with controls.


This study illuminates personal and social factors associated with OA by comparing health experiences of individuals with OA and controls. It highlights directions for future research that can improve our understanding of the needs of individuals with OA and can help link individuals' health status to the broader framework of their lives.