Knee Arthritis


What is knee arthritis?

Arthritis in the knee is most commonly known as osteoarthritis, a type of arthritis related to aging and wear and tear. Arthritis is inflammation in the joints where two bones come together. Knee osteoarthritis is considered a degenerative disease because it worsens over time.

The chance of developing osteoarthritis goes up after age 45. According to the Arthritis Foundation, more than 27 million people in the U.S. have osteoarthritis, with the knee being one of the most commonly affected areas.

What causes knee arthritis?

Age is the most common cause of knee osteoarthritis, as the ability of cartilage to heal decreases as we get older. Most people will eventually develop some degree of osteoarthritis.

The following factors increase the risk of developing significant arthritis at an earlier age:

  • Weight. Weight increases pressure on all the joints, especially the knees.
  • Heredity. Some people are more apt to develop arthritis based on the shape of their bones around the knee.
  • Gender. Women who are 55 and older are more likely than men to develop osteoarthritis of the knee.
  • Repetitive stress injuries. People with jobs requiring a lot of kneeling, squatting, or lifting of heavy weights are at increased risk for knee osteoarthritis.
  • Other illnesses. People with rheumatoid arthritis (a disease of the immune system that’s the second most common type of arthritis) are more likely to develop osteoarthritis. Other metabolic disorders, such as iron overload or excess growth hormone, also increase the risk of osteoarthritis.

What are the symptoms of knee arthritis?

Symptoms of osteoarthritis typically develop gradually and include:

  • Stiffness and pain with particular movements
  • Pain after overuse or after long periods of inactivity
  • Swelling around the joints
  • Difficulty walking, standing, and sitting for extended periods of time

How is osteoarthritis of the knee diagnosed?

Knee arthritis may be identified based on your medical history, your symptoms (such as the location of the pain), and the activities that make the pain better or worse. Your physician will also observe the movements and strength of your knee. If knee arthritis is suspected, an X-ray will typically confirm or deny the diagnosis.

How is knee arthritis treated?

The appropriate course of treatment depends on the severity of symptoms. Common nonsurgical recommendations include:

  • Avoiding activities that make the pain worse
  • Icing the knee to reduce the inflammation
  • Using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications
  • Exercise
  • Physical therapy
  • Knee braces to help with support
  • Steroid injections
  • Joint fluid therapy (replacement of the natural lubricants found in healthy joints)

If nonsurgical treatment is not effective in relieving symptoms, surgery is a final option. Surgery can be performed to remove damaged parts of the knee or to insert an artificial joint.

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