The prediction comes as a new survey by the charity Arthritis Care reveals seven in 10 of the 8.5m people in the UK with the condition suffer some form of constant pain due to the illness, with one in eight claiming it is often “unbearable”.
More than 700,000 people in Yorkshire have the complaint which most commonly affects the joints in the hips, knees and hands.
Rates are expected to dramatically increase in coming years as numbers of obese and of older people grow significantly.
Professor Philip Conaghan, of Leeds University and a consultant rheumatologist in the city which is a world-leading centre for research in the field, said: “Britain is facing a tsunami of pain due to osteoarthritis as the number of people over 50 increases dramatically and obesity levels continue to rise.
“Action is needed immediately – we have to bust this myth that painful joints are an inevitable part of getting older that we have to put up with.
“Osteoarthritis also has huge implications for the wider economy in terms of lost working years and also for the NHS, which is currently performing over 140,000 hip and knee replacements each year.
“I see 45-year-old joiners who are being diagnosed with knee pain and I know that they won’t be able to carry on working long enough to pay off their mortgages. This disease has a big impact on the ability of individuals to earn a living – especially in manual trades.”
The survey of 2,000 sufferers found the average age of diagnosis of osteoarthritis is now 57 but as many as one in five are diagnosed under 45, opening the prospect of many people living with the condition for decades.
It claimed people with the condition face additional costs each year of nearly £500 per person for medical prescriptions, heating bills and transport costs.
One person in five had to give up work or retire early – on average 7.8 years early − because of their symptoms. More than two in five said they did no exercise at all even though experts advise that exercise is one of the best treatments. Seven in eight of those who exercised said they felt the benefit.
Prof Conaghan said: “It’s frustrating that this survey reveals many people become less active when diagnosed with osteoarthritis, when all the clinical evidence available suggests this is the worst thing you can do because keeping moving can actually strengthen joints and improve symptoms.
“There are so many ways to help with osteoarthritis pain including taking pain relief medication, strengthening muscles, taking aerobic exercise, losing weight if appropriate and, in the worst case scenario, joint replacement surgery – so it’s by no means all doom and gloom.”
Arthritis Care chief executive Judith Brodie said the burden of the condition was “already enormous, but with an ageing and increasingly obese population the future is looking bleak”.
“We need policy makers and professionals to take the condition seriously to implement robust and meaningful strategies to address how osteoarthritis is treated and managed across the UK and to improve health services,” she said.
The survey found a quarter of patients visited their GPs three or more times before they were diagnosed. Two in five being treated said it was largely ineffective in helping them manage their condition.
The charity’s president actress Jane Asher said: “Nobody should be in pain even for a few days, let alone be allowed to endure constant pain. Something can always be done and we encourage those with osteoarthritis to try and keep active, even if just a little, to help reduce the impact of the condition.”