Cylindrical human tibial cartilage-bone unit specimens were removed from 9 early-stage medial osteoarthrotic (OA) tibiae (mean age 74 years) and 10 normal age-matched tibiae (mean age 73 years). These specimens were divided into 4 groups: OA, lateral comparison, medial age-matched, and lateral age-matched and were tested to 0.5% bone strain with a novel technique to obtain the stiffnesses of both cartilage and bone simultaneously. We found a pronounced reduction in the stiffnesses of OA cartilage and subchondral bone when compared with the medial age-matched group. OA cartilage was significantly thinner than that of the lateral comparison and the medial age-matched control groups. However, this reduction in thickness was not correlated with the reduction in stiffness for OA cartilage. The stiffnesses did not correlate between OA cartilage and bone, whereas the stiffness relationships between cartilage and bone remained significant in the three control groups. Our findings suggest that both cartilage and bone in early-stage OA are mechanically inferior to normal, and that OA cartilage and bone have lost their unit function to mechanical loading.