Objectives Knee osteoarthritis (OA) is a leading cause of activity limitations. The knee OA population is likely to consist of subgroups. The aim of the present study was to identify homogeneous subgroups with distinct trajectories of activity limitations in patients with early symptomatic knee OA and to describe characteristics of these subgroups. Methods Follow-up data over a period of 5 years of 697 participants with early symptomatic knee OA from the Cohort Hip and Cohort Knee (CHECK) were used. Activity limitations were measured yearly with the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index. Latent class growth analyses identified homogeneous subgroups with distinct trajectories of activity limitations. Multivariable regression analyses examined differences in characteristics between the subgroups. Results Three subgroups were identified. Participants in Subgroup 1 ('good outcome'; n=330) developed or displayed slight activity limitations over time. Participants in Subgroup 2 ('moderate outcome'; n=257) developed or displayed moderate activity limitations over time. Participants in subgroup 3 ('poor outcome'; n=110) developed or displayed severe activity limitations over time. Compared with the 'good outcome' subgroup, the 'moderate outcome' and 'poor outcome' subgroups were characterised by: younger age, higher body mass index, greater pain, bony tenderness, reduced knee flexion, hip pain, osteophytosis, >= 3 comorbidities, lower vitality or avoidance of activities. Conclusions Based on the 5-year course of activity limitations, we identified homogeneous subgroups of knee OA patients with good, moderate or poor outcome. Characteristics of these subgroups were consistent with existing knowledge on prognostic factors regarding activity limitations, which supports the validity of this classification.