Osteoarthritis comprises several joint disorders characterized by articular cartilage degeneration and persistent pain, causing disability and economic burden. The incidence of osteoarthritis is rapidly increasing worldwide due to aging and obesity trends. Basic and clinical research on osteoarthritis has been carried out for decades, but many questions remain unanswered. The exact role of subchondral bone during the initiation and progression osteoarthritis remains unclear. Accumulating evidence shows that subchondral bone lesions, including bone marrow edema and angiogenesis, develop earlier than cartilage degeneration. Clinical interventions targeting subchondral bone have shown therapeutic potential, while others targeting cartilage have yielded disappointing results. Abnormal subchondral bone remodeling, angiogenesis and sensory nerve innervation contribute directly or indirectly to cartilage destruction and pain. This review is about bone-cartilage crosstalk, the subchondral microenvironment and the critical role of both in osteoarthritis progression. It also provides an update on the pathogenesis of and interventions for osteoarthritis and future research targeting subchondral bone.