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What is Knee Arthritis?
Arthritis is a degenerative condition where the cartilage lining the joints wears out. Cartilage normally serves as a low-friction cushioning that covers the ends of bones. In arthritis, this surface becomes damaged and starts to wear out. When the cartilage wears out, the bone ends rub on one another and cause pain. This condition is referred to as Osteoarthritis or “wear and tear” arthritis, as it occurs with aging and use. It is the most common type of arthritis.
Causes of Knee Arthritis
There are numerous conditions that can cause arthritis but often the exact cause is never known.
The causes include:
- Trauma (fracture)
- Auto-immune (rheumatoid arthritis)
- Increased stress such as overuse and overweight
- Inactive lifestyle and obesity (overweight). Your weight is the single most important link between diet and arthritis, as being overweight puts an additional burden on your hips, knees, ankles and feet.
This article will focus on Osteoarthritis or “wear and tear arthritis” which is the most common type.
Symptoms of Knee Arthritis
The primary symptoms of knee osteoarthritis are pain, swelling, and stiffening of the knee joint. In the early stages of osteoarthritis the pain is associated with increased activity such as prolonged walking, kneeling, and going up and down stairs. Catching or clicking sensation from the knee are common as the irregular joint surfaces rub along one another. As the cartilage wears away, pain can become more severe and constant, interfering with regular daily activities and disrupting sleep.
Diagnosis of Knee Arthritis
Doctors diagnose osteoarthritis with a medical history, physical exam and x-rays of the affected joint. During the physical examination your doctor will examine the affected joint for swelling, pain, tenderness, and assess the joint’s range of motion. An X-ray of the knee may show a loss of the joint space and bone spur formation.
There is no blood test for osteoarthritis.
The x-ray of a normal knee (above left) is shown for comparison to an x-ray of a knee with arthritis (above right). Note the complete loss of joint space between the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone) indicating advanced arthritis.
Treatment of Knee Arthritis
There is no known cure for osteoarthritis; however there are several options that can help you ease your pain and symptoms. The treatment of knee osteoarthritis can be categorized as non-surgical and surgical.
Behavioral and lifestyle changes including losing weight and avoiding painful activities and routines can be effective in relieving pain. Oral pain medication such as Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen can provide relief from pain. Consult with your primary care physician or orthopedic surgeon prior to starting any medications. Physical therapy can improve muscle strength and range of motion, reducing the symptoms of arthritis. Gel injections and cortisone injections can help to lubricate the knee and reduce the pain and the swelling of the joint.
When non-surgical treatment is no longer effective and patients are looking for a more permanent solution, partial or total knee replacement surgery is the most reliable surgical solution in treating arthritis of the knee.