The most common type of arthritis of the knee is osteoarthritis (OA), which is the inflammation of one or more of your knee joints. It’s a degenerative, wear-and-tear type of arthritis, where the cartilage of your joints gradually wears away.
Another type of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an inflammatory autoimmune disease. In total, there are more than 100 types of arthritis.
Arthritis causes pain and reduced mobility, often affecting the quality of life. While the elderly are mostly affected by this condition, younger people can also get it, e.g. as an hereditary condition or as a result from injury, or infection. Overweight is also a major risk factor for osteoarthritis.
In this article, we’re going to answer some of the most frequently asked questions on the arthritis of the knee, what symptoms it has, and what options you have if you’re seeking treatment.
What are the symptoms of knee arthritis?
Pain, swelling, and stiffness are the most common symptoms for knee arthritis, but there are other signals you should look out for.
Pain increases gradually
When a knee joint is affected by arthritis, the pain generally develops gradually over time. You might notice pain when making normal movements, such as walking, climbing the stairs, or after sitting for a while.
Depending on the individual, the pain might grow stronger over some years or more rapidly. Symptoms may be stable for some time and then worsen in a short time.
Many patients report increased knee pain when the weather changes.
Your knee is swollen and tender
The joint of your knee may be swollen and tender to the touch, making it difficult to straighten or bend the knee. This happens because arthritis causes inflammation, sometimes also leading to a fluid buildup around the joint (also known as soft swelling).
You might notice more swelling after long periods of inactivity, e.g. when you wake up in the morning.
With arthritis, the cartilage wears away, and the bones of your knee rub together. This causes not only pain and inflammation but also a certain instability in the knee structure. As a consequence, you might feel your knee stick or lock during movement.
Your knee pops or cracks
With arthritis, the smooth motion of joints is compromised. For this reason, you may feel your knees pop, crack or make a grinding noise when bending or straightening your knee. Scientifically, this is called crepitus.
Everyday movements are much harder when your knee joints are compromised. Regular activities such as walking, climbing up and down the stairs or standing up can become really difficult.
Flexing or straightening your knee might also be very painful.
Knee deformities can be another symptom of arthritis. As damage progresses, the muscles around your knee weaken and the knees might bend outward or point toward each other. While these deformities might be barely noticeable, they can also be debilitating.
How is knee arthritis treated?
While there is no cure for arthritis, there are different surgical and non-surgical treatment options you can rely on. Here’s a rundown.
Non-surgical treatments mainly involve lifestyle changes, anti-inflammatory drugs, and alternative therapies.
- If needed, losing weight can help reduce knee pain from osteoarthritis as less weight would alleviate the pressure on your joints.
- Exercises to strengthen or stretch the muscles can also be very helpful as they can make the knee more stable, mobile, and flexible. Physical therapy can also help increase the range of motion and flexibility.
- To reduce pain and inflammation, your doctor might prescribe you painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication. Always consult with a doctor for a prolonged intake of over-the-counter drugs.
- Some patients benefit from injections of hyaluronic acid or corticosteroids. These work powerfully against inflammation. Stem cells and plasma injections are an additional option to decrease pain or as a temporary solution before surgery.
- Alternative therapies include acupuncture or supplements.
- Assistive devices such as a cane or shock-absorbing shoes can help you with pain and mobility. Devices such as braces can instead help you unload the weight on your joints or support your entire knee.
- You might also find some pain relief by using pain-relieving ointments, applying ice or heat or wearing elastic bandages.
If non-surgical treatments haven’t been successful, surgery might be an option. These are the most common surgeries:
- Knee replacement surgery or knee arthroplasty, is the most effective and long-lasting procedure. It involves replacing one or all parts of your knee joint with an artificial prosthesis. If all parts are replaced, it’s a total knee replacement; if only one part is replaced, it’s a partial knee replacement.
Knee arthroplasty is an invasive surgery that requires a 2-3 day stay at the hospital, physical therapy, and a few months of rehabilitation. However, the long-term benefits of a knee replacement (today’s prostheses last around 20 years) make surgery one of the preferred treatment options when osteoarthritis severely affects the quality of life of an individual.
There are different types of prosthesis available. You can discuss with your doctor what option best suits your needs. After a knee replacement surgery, it is paramount that you follow your doctor’s recommendations carefully, as post-op guidelines and physiotherapy are crucial for a successful recovery.
- Knee arthroscopy is another surgical option you might consider. This is typically recommended for younger patients to delay more invasive surgery. In this case, the surgeon makes small incisions to access the joint space and remove any damaged cartilage and repair tissues.
To some extent, symptoms and treatment options will vary depending on the type of arthritis. While there’s no cure for arthritis, there are different strategies that can help you get better.
Knee arthritis can be a painful and debilitating condition but you can rely on experienced professionals who will support you in finding the best solution for your needs. Feel free to contact us anytime and we’ll make sure to find the best treatment option for you.
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