The purpose of this study was to quantify the social and financial burden imposed by osteoarthritis in France. Six million new diagnoses of osteoarthritis are reported each year in France. The number of physician visits for osteoarthritis totals 8.7 million per year, for a total cost of 950 million French francs (FF). The cost of drugs prescribed to treat osteoarthritis is 965 million FF. Total annual cost of laboratory tests, roentgenograms, and rehabilitation therapy is 330 million French francs per year. The annual number of hospital admissions for osteoarthritis is 93,000. Duration of the hospital stay ranges from 11 to 16 days according the site involved. Hospital costs (in public and private institutions) total 1.7 billion French francs per year. Total direct costs related to osteoarthritis are 4 billion French francs per year. Indirect costs are the costs related to days of work lost. Sick leave benefits total 556 million FF and the production costs for the national economy are estimated at 1.6 billion French francs per year. Direct costs (4 billion FF) and indirect costs (at least 600 million FF) related to osteoarthritis represent an enormous burden for the French economy and national health care system. Novel treatments capable of substantially decreasing these costs would be of great value.