When studying joint degeneration leading to osteoarthritis (OA), it seems imperative that local joint tissue loading is known during normal everyday movement and that the adaptive/degenerative effects of this loading are quantified systematically. Philosophically, we believe the best way to approach this problem is by studying joint degeneration and osteoarthritis in long-term experimental models and by representing diarthrodial joints and the associated tissues with accurate, geometric and structural, theoretical models. Here, we present selected examples of our work representing this approach. Experimentally, we demonstrate that the local loading of joints changes continuously in experimental models of OA, not only because of the changing external and internal loading, but also because of the continuous alterations in joint contact geometry and tissue mechanical properties. Furthermore, we show that single bouts of joint loading affect gene expression, and that gene expression, as well as subsequent joint degeneration is site-specific. In fact, opposing articular surfaces that are exposed to the same loading may degenerate at completely different rates. Finally, we propose a series of theoretical models of articular cartilage and contact mechanics, demonstrating that many of the anisotropic and inhomogeneous properties can be explained by structural elements and their orientation and volumetric concentration across the tissue.