Osteoarthritis is often a progressive and disabling disease, which occurs in the setting of a variety of risk factors--such as advancing age, obesity, and trauma--that conspire to incite a cascade of pathophysiologic events within joint tissues. An important emerging theme in osteoarthritis is a broadening of focus from a disease of cartilage to one of the 'whole joint'. The synovium, bone, and cartilage are each involved in pathologic processes that lead to progressive joint degeneration. Additional themes that have emerged over the past decade are novel mechanisms of cartilage degradation and repair, the relationship between biomechanics and biochemical pathways, the importance of inflammation, and the role played by genetics. In this review we summarize current scientific understanding of osteoarthritis and examine the pathobiologic mechanisms that contribute to progressive disease.