Knee Osteoarthritis: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment
Knee osteoarthritis is described by degeneration of the knee’s articular cartilage, which is a slippery material that usually protects bones from joint friction. This condition also includes changes to the bone beneath the cartilage and can affect neighboring soft tissues.
What Is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis, also called wear-and-tear osteoarthritis, is a condition in which the cartilage which cushions your joints wears away. When it occurs, the bones of the joints rub more closely against one another with less of the shock-absorbing advantages of cartilage. The rubbing causes pain, stiffness, swelling, decreased mobility, and, sometimes, can also lead to the formation of bone spurs.
Who Develops Osteoarthritis Of The Knee?
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common types of arthritis. Although it can affect people of any age, older people (age 45 years and above) are more susceptible to developing osteoarthritis. As per the research conducted by the arthritis foundation, more than 27 million people in the United States of America, have osteoarthritis, with the knee being one of the most commonly affected areas. Also, women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than women.
What Causes Knee Osteoarthritis?
Older age is one of the most common causes of osteoarthritis. Almost every individual will develop some degree of osteoarthritis in their lifetime. However, some factors can increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis at an earlier age. They are:
- Weight: Being overweight increases your risk of developing osteoarthritis. Weight increases pressure on all joints, specifically the knees. Every pound of weight gain adds up to 3-4 pounds of extra weight on your knees.
- Gender: Women age 55 years or older are more likely to develop knee osteoarthritis than men.
- Heredity: This incorporates genetic mutations that can make a person more susceptible to develop osteoarthritis of the knee. It can also be because of inherited abnormalities in the shape of the bones that bound the knee joint.
- Athletics: Athletics or sportspersons involved in long-distance running, tennis, soccer, etc., are at increased risk of developing knee osteoarthritis. So, athletics should take measures to avoid any injuries. One important thing to note here is that moderate regular exercise helps strengthen our joints and minimizes osteoarthritis risk. Make sure you exercise regularly as weak muscles around your joints may cause you to develop osteoarthritis.
- Repetitive stress injuries: These are generally the consequence of the type of job a person has. People with certain jobs that involve numerous activities that can stress the joints, including lifting heavy weights, kneeling, or squatting, are more likely to develop osteoarthritis. This is due to the simple reason that all those activities exert constant pressure on the joints, thereby making the muscles around them weak.
- Other diseases: People with rheumatoid arthritis, which is the second most common type of arthritis, are more prone to develop osteoarthritis of the knee. Also, individuals with certain metabolic disorders, including iron overload or increased growth hormone, are at an elevated risk of developing osteoarthritis.
What Are The Symptoms Of Knee Osteoarthritis?
The symptoms of knee osteoarthritis may come and go, getting more frequent and worse over several months or years. Make sure your treatment gets started as soon as you are diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the knee, or else the symptoms can aggravate if left untreated for long. Following are some of the knee osteoarthritis symptoms you may experience:
- Knee pain: Knee pain is one of the most commonly reported symptoms of knee osteoarthritis. The intensity of the pain depends on the patient’s condition and situation. For some people, the knee pain may come and go, while for others, the pain can be persistent with intermittent flare-ups of more intense pain.
- Swelling: When knee cartilage wears away, the femur and tibia (and sometimes also patella) bones can rub against one another, causing irritation. Sometimes this irritation results in the production of superfluous joint fluid, which leads to knee swelling.
- Stiffness: The knee joint swelling and bone-to-bone friction make the knee feel stiff. Some people experience knee stiffness just for about thirty minutes after waking up in the morning or after sitting for an extended period. Stiffness may or may not be followed by visible swelling or a limited range of motion.
- Redness and warmth: Your skin over the affected knee can become red and warm. In some cases, this sign can also indicate an underlying infection that needs immediate medical assistance. People who are unaware of the underlying cause of knee redness and warmth, specifically when accompanied by swelling, are recommended to seek immediate medical care.
- Worsening symptoms with inactivity: Your knees may become stiff after sleeping or sitting for an extended period. Most people with knee osteoarthritis usually find that their pain and stiffness are most recognizable when they try to get out of their bed in the morning or get out of a chair after a prolonged period of sitting.
- Limited range of motion: Your knee’s range of motion may reduce, making it less flexible. For instance, moderate to advanced osteoarthritis can make it more challenging to completely straighten or bend the knee.
- Popping or crunching: Feeling or hearing a crunching or popping sound when you bend the knee, including when you bend down into a squat position, are a common sign of knee joint friction. However, if you have no other symptoms other than this one, it’s not usually a matter of concern.
- Buckling or locking up: Moderate to advanced knee osteoarthritis may result in the sensation of a knee giving way or buckling. This feeling might occur if uneven grooves or flaps in the degenerated cartilage catch or if a piece of cartilage splits off and becomes lodged in the joint. Knee locking or buckling is also common in people who have a meniscus tear or ligament injury.
How Is Knee Osteoarthritis Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of osteoarthritis of the knee starts with a physical exam. Your doctor will also ask about the symptoms you are experiencing along with your medical history. Make sure to provide your doctor with all the necessary information, including what aggravates the pain and what makes it better. This will help your doctor determine if osteoarthritis or something else is responsible for your symptoms. The doctor will also enquire if someone else in your family has or had any type of arthritis. He may also order additional tests, including:
- X-ray: X-rays can demonstrate bone or cartilage damage and also the presence of bone spurs.
- MRI: MRI (Magnetic Resource Imaging) provides a better and more detailed view of the cartilage, and other parts of the joint and so can be beneficial in diagnosing osteoarthritis of the knee.
- Joint aspiration: After anesthetizing the area, the doctor inserts a needle into the joint to draw some fluid. This test will test for infection or crystals in the fluid. The joint aspiration test results can help your doctor rule out other prospective medical conditions or other types of arthritis.
How Is Knee Osteoarthritis Treated?
The main objective of treating knee osteoarthritis is to ease the pain and return to normal mobility. The doctor will suggest a treatment plan for you, including a combination of the following:
- Weight loss: If you are overweight or obese, try losing some weight. This can considerably reduce the pain from knee osteoarthritis.
- Exercise: As discussed earlier, performing moderate exercises regularly strengthen the joint muscles and reduces joint pain. Try stretching exercises and help keep your knee joints flexible and mobile.
- Shots of corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid: Steroids are one of the very effective anti-inflammatory medications. Hyaluronic acid is usually present in joints as a kind of lubricating fluid.
- Using devices like “braces”: There are two types of braces: Unloader Braces & Support Braces. The unloader braces work to take away the weight from the affected knee, while the support braces offer support for the entire knee.
- Alternative therapies: Certain alternative therapies that can be useful are - topical creams containing capsaicin, acupuncture, or supplements, like glucosamine and chondroitin or SAMe.
- Physical and occupational therapy: If your knee osteoarthritis symptoms are interfering with your daily chores, physical and occupational therapy might help. Follow the guidelines of your physical therapist to strengthen muscles and improve the flexibility of your joint. On the other hand, an occupational therapist will teach you alternate ways to perform regular activities, including household work, with less pain.
- Surgery: When all other treatments prove to be ineffective for you, your doctor may recommend surgery.