Know the basics
What is knee osteoarthritis?
Knee osteoarthritis, commonly known as wear-and-tear arthritis of the knee, is a condition in which the natural cushioning between joints – cartilage – wears away. When this happens, the bones of the joints rub more closely against one another with less of the shock-absorbing benefits of cartilage.
How common is knee osteoarthritis?
Knee osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder. Symptomatic knee osteoarthritis occurs in 10% men and 13% women aged 60 years or older. The number of people affected with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis is likely to increase due to the aging of the population and the obesity epidemic.
What are the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis?
The main symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee are:
- Pain (particularly when you are moving your knee or at the end of the day – this usually gets better when you rest)
- Stiffness (especially after rest – this usually eases after a minute or so as you get moving)
- Crepitus, a creaking, crunching, grinding sensation when you move the joint
- Hard swellings (caused by osteophytes)
- Soft swellings (caused by extra fluid in the joint)
Other symptoms can include:
- Your knee giving way because your muscles have become weak or the joint structure is less stable
- Your knee not moving as freely or as far as normal
- Your knees becoming bent and bowed
- The muscles around your joint looking thin or wasted
It is unusual, but some people have pain in their knee that wakes them up at night. This generally only happens with severe osteoarthritis.
You will probably find that your pain will vary and that you have good days and bad days, sometimes depending on how active you have been but sometimes for no clear reason.
Some people find that changes in the weather (especially damp weather and low pressure) make their pain and stiffness worse. This may be because nerve fibers in the capsule of their knee are sensitive to changes in atmospheric pressure.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes knee osteoarthritis?
There are many causes of this condition; however, the most common cause of osteoarthritis of the knee is age. Almost everyone will eventually develop some degree of osteoarthritis. Several causes can develop significant arthritis at an earlier age.
- Age: The ability of cartilage to heal decreases as a person gets older.
- Weight: Weight increases pressure on all the joints, especially the knees. Every pound of weight you gain adds 3 to 4 pounds of extra weight on your knees.
- Heredity: This includes genetic mutations that might make a person more likely to develop osteoarthritis of the knee. It may also be due to inherited abnormalities in the shape of the bones that surround the knee joint.
- Gender: Women ages 55 and older are more likely than men to develop osteoarthritis of the knee.
- Repetitive stress injuries: People with certain occupations that include a lot of activity that can stress the joint, such as kneeling, squatting, or lifting heavy weights (55 pounds or more), are more likely to develop osteoarthritis of the knee because of the constant pressure on the joint
- Athletics: Athletes involved in soccer, tennis, or long-distance running may be at higher risk for developing osteoarthritis of the knee.
- Other illnesses: People with rheumatoid arthritis, the second most common type of arthritis, are also more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
What increases my risk for knee osteoarthritis?
Many factors can increase your risk of osteoarthritis of the knee. It’s most common if:
- You are in your late 40s or older – this might be because your muscles have become weaker, your body is less able to heal itself or your joints have gradually worn out over time.
- You are a woman – osteoarthritis is more common and more severe in women.
- You are overweight – this increases the chances of developing osteoarthritis and of it becoming gradually worse.
- Your parents or siblings have had osteoarthritis.
- You have had a knee injury, for example a torn meniscus.
- You have had an operation on your knee, for example a meniscectomy (to remove damaged cartilage) or repairs to your cruciate ligaments.
- You do a hard, repetitive activity or a physically demanding job, for example farming or mining.
- You have another type of joint disease which has damaged your joints, for example rheumatoid arthritis or gout.
Diagnosis & Treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is knee osteoarthritis diagnosed?
Your doctor will make a diagnosis of osteoarthritis of the knee based on your symptoms and an examination. During the examination, they’ll check for:
- Tenderness over your knee
- Creaking and grating (crepitus)
- Bony swelling
- Excess fluid
- Restricted movement
- Instability of your knee
- Thinning of the muscles that support your knee.
After examining, some tests will perform, include:
- X-rays: X-rays are the most useful tests to confirm a diagnosis of osteoarthritis, although they won’t often be needed. X-rays may show changes such as osteophytes, narrowing of the space between bones and calcium deposits within your joint.
- MRI: Your doctor may suggest you have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan on your knee, which will show the soft tissues (e.g. cartilage, tendons, muscles) and changes in the bone that can’t be seen on a standard x-ray. This is quite rare, though.
There is no blood test for osteoarthritis but they can be used to rule out other conditions.
How is knee osteoarthritis treated?
The primary goals of treating osteoarthritis of the knee are to relieve the pain and return mobility. The treatment plan will typically include a combination of the following:
- Weight loss: Losing even a small amount of weight, if needed, can significantly decrease knee pain from osteoarthritis
- Exercise: Strengthening the muscles around the knee makes the joint more stable and decreases pain. Stretching exercises help keep the knee joint mobile and flexible.
- Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs: This includes over-the-counter choices such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen sodium (Aleve). Don’t take over-the-counter medications for more than 10 days without checking with your doctor. Taking them for longer increases the chance of side effects. If over-the-counter medications don’t provide relief, your doctor may give you a prescription anti-inflammatory drug or other medication to help ease the pain.
- Injections of corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid into the knee: Steroids are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs. Hyaluronic acid is normally present in joints as a type of lubricating fluid.
- Alternative therapies: Some alternative therapies that may be effective include topical creams with capsaicin, acupuncture, or supplements, including glucosamine and chondroitin.
- Using devices such as braces: There are two types of braces: “unloader” braces, which take the weight away from the side of the knee affected by arthritis; and “support” braces, which provide support for the entire knee.
- Physical and occupational therapy: If you are having trouble with daily activities, physical or occupational therapy can help. Physical therapists teach you ways to strengthen muscles and increase flexibility in your joint. Occupational therapists teach you ways to perform regular, daily activities, such as housework, with less pain.
- Surgery: When other treatments don’t work, surgery is a good option.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage knee osteoarthritis?
Knee pain has a number of different causes. Whatever the cause, exercise and keeping to a healthy weight can reduce symptoms.
Try these exercises to help ease pain and prevent future symptoms.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Knee osteoarthritis. http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/guide/ostearthritis-of-the-knee-degenerative-arthritis-of-the-knee#1 . Accessed 10 Feb, 2017.
Knee osteoarthritis. http://www.healthline.com/health/osteoarthritis/knee-pain . Accessed 10 Feb, 2017.
Knee osteoarthritis. http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/conditions/osteoarthritis-of-the-knee/outlook.aspx . Accessed 10 Feb, 2017.
Review Date: February 11, 2017 | Last Modified: September 13, 2019