Are you suffering from knee discomfort? Osteoarthritis affects over 32.5 million Americans, and knee osteoarthritis is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. Research shows knee osteoarthritis affects approximately 13% of women and 10% of men 60 years old and older.

Are you curious about the signs, causes, and potential solutions for knee osteoarthritis? At the Louisville Hip & Knee Institute, we understand the impact osteoarthritis of the knee can have on your life and want to help answer your questions.

What is Osteoarthritis of the Knee?

Osteoarthritis (often abbreviated as OA) is the most prevalent form of arthritis, and when it comes to affected joints, the knee takes a significant hit. In the natural course of our lives, joints undergo a cycle of damage and subsequent repair. 

However, this restorative process can sometimes lead to alterations in the structure or shape of these joints. It’s termed osteoarthritis when these modifications manifest in one or more of your joints.

The knee joint, where the thigh and shin bones meet, houses a smaller bone called the patella or kneecap. The ends of these bones boast a smooth, slick covering identified as cartilage. This cartilage is a frictionless cushion, facilitating seamless movement between bones while shielding the joint from undue stress. 

Additionally, the knee features two other rings of distinct cartilage known as menisci or meniscus, aiding in distributing weight evenly across the knee joint. Beneath your kneecap lies another layer of cartilage. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage within your knee joint undergoes a process of thinning, resulting in roughened joint surfaces. 

What Are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis of the Knee?

Recognizing the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis is important for early detection and treatment. Common symptoms include:

  • Persistent pain during or after movement
  • Stiffness, particularly after prolonged periods of inactivity
  • Tenderness or sensitivity in the joint area
  • Reduced flexibility and range of motion
  • A grating sensation or audible popping or crackling in the knee
  • Formation of bone spurs around the joint
  • Swelling due to inflammation around the knee

What Can Cause Osteoarthritis in the Knee?

Various factors contribute to the development of knee osteoarthritis, including:

  • Age: More common in older adults
  • Gender: Women are more susceptible than men
  • Obesity: Excess weight adds stress to the knee joints
  • Injuries: Previous knee injuries increase the risk
  • Repetitive Stress: Certain jobs or sports activities can strain the knee
  • Genetics: A predisposition to osteoarthritis can be inherited
  • Bone Deformities: Abnormal bone or joint structures can lead to OA
  • Metabolic Diseases: Conditions like diabetes or hemochromatosis have links to OA

How is Osteoarthritis Diagnosed?

To determine the presence of knee OA, your doctor will conduct a comprehensive examination, looking for the following indicators:

  • Swelling, warmth, redness, or soreness around the joint
  • Assessment of your knee’s range of motion to determine flexibility
  • Evaluation of joint stability and potential looseness
  • Determination of pain when weight is placed on the knee
  • Analysis of gait abnormalities to understand how you walk
  • Check for any visible signs of past injuries

Typically, your doctor might recommend X-rays for one or both knees. While cartilage doesn’t appear on X-rays, the loss of cartilage is evident through narrowed spaces between the bones. X-rays can also reveal bone spurs and bony projections on the joint’s edges. In some cases, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may capture a detailed knee image encompassing bone and soft tissue.

Furthermore, your doctor might conduct additional tests, such as drawing blood or extracting fluid from your knee using a needle. This step aims to rule out other forms of arthritis and establish a precise diagnosis.

What Are the Treatment Options for Osteoarthritis in the Knee?

Drug-Free Treatment

Non-drug treatments focus on managing symptoms and improving knee function. These can include:

  • Ice or Heat Application: To reduce pain and swelling
  • Weight Management: To ease the stress on the knees
  • Physical Therapy: Exercise and stretching programs to strengthen muscles and enhance flexibility
  • Acupuncture or Massage: For pain relief
  • Assistive Devices: Canes, braces, or shoe inserts for support

Drug Treatments

Several medications aim to alleviate OA symptoms. Such as:

  • Pain Relievers: Acetaminophen or NSAIDs for pain management
  • Topical Creams or Gels: Applied to the knee for localized relief
  • Steroid Injections: To reduce inflammation and pain
  • Duloxetine is sometimes used to manage chronic OA pain
  • CBD Treatments: a CBD-infused pill, tincture, or topical pain management solution like Corganics.

Surgical Treatments

If conservative treatments fail to provide relief, surgical options might be considered:

  • Arthroscopy: Arthroscopy: removing small tears in the meniscus if the patient has only minimal or early/mild arthritis.
  • Total or Partial Knee Replacement (Arthroplasty): Replacing damaged knee surfaces with artificial components

Talk to an Orthopaedic Knee Surgeon

Knee osteoarthritis can be treated, but it’s important to understand the nuances and seek a consultation. Ready for pain-free movement? Schedule an appointment today with one of our orthopaedic surgeons to discuss a plan for you. Don’t let knee osteoarthritis hold you back from living life to the fullest.

FAQs About Osteoarthritis

Answer: Osteoarthritis is distinct from other forms of arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis. Unlike these autoimmune conditions, osteoarthritis is primarily caused by joint wear and tear.

Answer: While some factors like age and genetics cannot be altered, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding injuries, and exercising regularly can help reduce the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis. Lifestyle modifications include staying active with low-impact exercises and using assistive devices when needed. You may also want to use heat or cold therapy to manage symptoms and improve knee function.

Answer: Yes, osteoarthritis commonly affects joints like the hips, hands, and spine, though the knees are particularly susceptible due to their weight-bearing nature.

Answer: Knee osteoarthritis is primarily a degenerative condition affecting the cartilage in the knee joint, while rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the joints, causing inflammation.

Answer: While knee replacement is a standard surgical option for severe cases, various treatments are available, including medication, physical therapy, and less invasive surgical procedures, depending on the individual’s condition and preferences.

Answer: Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition. While some non-invasive treatments and physical therapy aim to alleviate pain and improve mobility, they may not eliminate the condition. 

However, total knee arthroplasty (TKA) can remove the arthritis from the joint so that it does not return.

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