The articular surface plays an essential role in load transfer across the joint, and conditions that produce increased load transfer or altered patterns of load distribution accelerate the development of osteoarthritis (OA). Current knowledge segregates the risk factors into two fundamental mechanisms related to the adverse effects of “abnormal” loading on normal cartilage or “normal” loading on abnormal cartilage. Although chondrocytes can modulate their functional state in response to loading, their capacity to repair and modify the surrounding extracellular matrix is limited in comparison to skeletal cells in bone. This differential adaptive capacity underlies the more rapid appearance of detectable skeletal changes, especially after acute injuries that alter joint mechanics. The imbalance in the adaptation of the cartilage and bone disrupts the physiological relationship between these tissues and further contributes to OA pathology. This review focuses on the specific articular cartilage and skeletal features of OA and the putative mechanisms involved in their pathogenesis.