There are more than 100 types of arthritis, and osteoarthritis is one of the most common and a leading cause of disability. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition. In knee osteoarthritis, the cartilage in the knee joint gradually wears down, becoming frayed and coarse, and the space between the bones also decreases. This causes bone-on-bone contact as you move, leading to the production of bone spurs, which can cause pain and limit your range of motion.
Knee arthritis is most common in older adults, but can affect younger people as well.
Symptoms and signs of arthritis in knee can vary in severity depending on how much damage has occurred in the joint. Symptoms tend to come on gradually and may include:
- Knee pain
- Decreased range of motion in the knee
- A sensation of “locking” or “sticking” of the knee when moving
- Weakening or buckling of the knee
Osteoarthritis knee pain and swelling is often worse after resting or sitting even just for a short time. Vigorous activity may cause your pain to flare and damp weather has also been associated with a worsening of symptoms in those with knee arthritis.
Knee osteoarthritis results from the deterioration of the cartilage that protects the ends of the bones in your knee joint. Degenerative changes can be caused by the wear and tear experienced as we age or from overuse resulting from repetitive strain on the knee. Previous knee injuries can also cause degeneration and eventually knee osteoarthritis.
There are certain risk factors that are known to increase the risk of developing degenerative knee arthritis, with age being the most common.
Other factors that may increase a person’s chance of developing knee osteoarthritis include:
- Activities that cause repetitive stress on the knee joint, such as running
- Being overweight
- Previous injuries to the knee, such as ACL and meniscus tears
- A family history of osteoarthritis
In order to diagnose degenerative knee arthritis, your doctor will first consider your medical history and symptoms. The doctor will want to know what your symptoms are, how long you’ve been in pain, what activities aggravate your symptoms and if any specific event caused your pain.
- What your symptoms are
- How long you’ve been having pain
- Which activities or motions cause or worsen your symptoms
- If you can recall a specific event or injury that may have caused your pain
- Details about any family history of osteoarthritis
The next step in determining the cause of your symptoms is a physical examination. The doctor will check your leg for signs of arthritis in knee and injury.
Imaging tests are required to diagnose knee osteoarthritis. These can include:
This type of imaging test creates images of bone and can help the doctor distinguish between different types of knee arthritis by showing changes in the bone, bone spurs, and narrowing of the joint space.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
This scan is able to provide highly detailed images of dense and soft tissues in and around the knee. This enables the doctor to not only diagnose knee osteoarthritis, but also the extent of the damage to the joint.
- Joint aspiration (arthrocentesis).
A needle and syringe are used to remove a sample of fluid from the knee joint to check for the presence of crystals and other matter to help rule out other causes of your symptoms and determine the type of knee arthritis you have.
Though there is no cure for osteoarthritis, there are many treatment options available that may help relieve pain and slow the progression of the condition.
Treatments for knee osteoarthritis include:
- Losing weight.
Studies have shown that obesity significantly raises the risk of knee osteoarthritis. Just 10 pounds of extra weight adds the equivalent of 30 to 40 pounds of stress on the knees. Losing weight can relieve pain and slow progression of the condition.
- Activity modification.
Avoiding or limiting activities that aggravate knee arthritis can slow progress of the disease and relieve symptoms.
- Physical therapy.
Special exercises geared at increasing strength and flexibility can help improve your range of motion and improve symptoms. Physical therapy and exercise has also been found to improve balance and defer the need for surgery.
- Assistive devices.
Wearing a knee brace can help with stability and movement. The use of other active devices, such as canes or special shoes and insert can also improve stability and help reduce the risk of injury and aggravation of symptoms of knee arthritis.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Aleve, Advil and Motrin, can relieve knee pain and reduce inflammation. There are also prescription medications that may help relieve some of symptoms associated with osteoarthritis in knee joints.
A powerful combination of steroids and a numbing agent are injected into the knee joint to provide fast relief of pain and reduce inflammation.
This type of treatment involves injecting hyaluronic acid (HA) into the joint. This gel-like substance occurs naturally in a healthy joint’s fluid and provides lubrication to help your knee joint move smoothly and provide shock absorption for the knees when walking.
Surgery may be recommended if nonsurgical treatments haven’t been able to relieve your osteoarthritis knee pain or if your symptoms are causing disability. Your doctor will consider various factors, including your state of health and the benefits and risks of surgery when deciding which procedure may be best for you.
The surgical procedures used to treat knee osteoarthritis include:
Knee osteotomy is most often used in those with early-stage osteoarthritis. The procedure cuts and reshapes the either the shinbone or thighbone to relieve pressure placed on the knee joint.
- Cartilage grafting.
Often reserved for younger patients, healthy cartilage is removed from another part of the body or a tissue bank to replace a small piece of missing articular cartilage.
- Total or partial knee replacement.
This procedure removes the damaged bone and cartilage in the knee and replaces it with artificial joint surfaces to restore your knee’s function.
- Knee Arthroscopy.
This procedure is conducted through a tiny incision with a thin, flexible camera. This is the type of surgery performed by the ARO surgeons, in combination with regenerative medicine and denervation.