Knee osteoarthritis (OA) is typically the result of wear and tear and progressive loss of articular cartilage. Knee osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative joint disease. It is most common in the elderly.
Articular cartilage is the smooth coating that covers the surface of the bones inside the knee. It also cushions and helps lubricate the joint surfaces. In osteoarthritis, this coating is damaged, leading to reduced lubrication and cushioning. The articular cartilage begins to degrade, and over time it can thin or form cracks. Pieces of cartilage may come loose and float inside the knee, further irritating the joint. After a long period of time, the cartilage can become completely “worn away,” and the bones begin to rub together, causing considerable pain.
Eventually, osteoarthritis may lead to disability, as it is a progressive disease. Typically, clinical symptoms become more severe, more frequent, and more debilitating over time. The rate of progression and intensity of clinical symptoms varies for each individual.
Knee osteoarthritis can be divided into two types, primary and secondary
. Primary osteoarthritis is articular degeneration without any apparent underlying reason. Secondary osteoarthritis is the consequence of either an abnormal concentration of force across the joint as with post-traumatic causes or abnormal articular cartilage, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Osteoarthritis usually comes on slowly and results in knee pain, stiffness, and/or swelling. Sometimes a grating sound can be heard when the knee is bent – such as when climbing up and down stairs or crouching. Bumps or nodes may appear around the knee joint. Sometimes a knee can have a mild amount of osteoarthritis and feel perfectly fine.
No one knows for sure what causes osteoarthritis, but some risk factors include:
- Previous knee injury (e.g., meniscal tear, ligament injury)
- Family history of osteoarthritis
- Being overweight
- Damage to the knee from another type of arthritis
- Increasing age
It is best to start treatment for osteoarthritis early before there is a lot of “wear and tear” in the knee. For this reason, establishing a correct diagnosis is very important. In some cases, osteoarthritis of the knee can be diagnosed based on the medical history and physical examination of the affected joint(s). An x-ray may be ordered to determine how much joint damage there is. Sometimes blood tests or joint fluid tests are ordered to confirm the diagnosis or to distinguish between different types of arthritis.
While there is no cure for osteoarthritis, a lot can be done to help people who have osteoarthritis in their knee(s). The goal of treatment is to reduce pain, control swelling, and maintain or improve mobility of the knee. Your orthopedic doctor and physical therapist will work together to outline a personalized treatment plan that is right for you.
Treatment options for knee osteoarthritis include exercises, medications, education on activity modification, weight loss, heat and cold therapy, techniques for joint protection, cortisone injections, and in some cases, surgery (partial knee replacement or total knee replacement). Total Joint replacement eliminates or reduces joint pain, increases mobility, and improves quality of life.
At OrthoMed Center, we employ proven treatment protocols to help patients with knee osteoarthritis achieve successful outcomes in recovery. Our fellowship-trained and board-certified orthopedic surgeons and care teams work closely with patients to ensure that their treatment and surgery (if needed) goes as smoothly as possible.
If you have any questions about knee osteoarthritis or would like to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic surgeons, please call (209) 524-4438 or request an appointment online.