Knee Arthritis: What are the Causes and Symptoms?

Do you get knee pain, swelling in the knees, or stiffness of the knee? Let’s explore what you could do to make it better.

What causes knee arthritis?

The knee is one of the joints in our body which is commonly affected by arthritis. The most common cause of knee pain is osteoarthritis of the knee, which is due to dysfunction of the cartilage in the knee joint. It also causes changes in other structures of the joint such as ligaments, tendons, and muscles. The symptoms develop slowly over the course of a few years.

There are other conditions that could also affect your knee joints such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, spondyloarthritis, gout, and lupus-related arthritis. These conditions are systemic conditions affecting other organs in your body.

What are the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis of the knee typically causes pain with physical activity. You will feel better if you are not putting weight on the joint. You will also feel the stiffness of the knee, most noticeable in the morning. The stiffness typically lasts for a few minutes. You will also lose flexibility in the knee joint.

How is the diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis made?

The diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis is based on a good history, followed by a physical examination by your doctor. Your doctor typically does an X-ray of the knee, which shows findings of osteoarthritis.

What are the risk factors for osteoarthritis of the knee?

The cause of knee osteoarthritis is not well understood. Here are some of the risk factors: older age, obesity, prior knee injuries, misalignment of the joint, female gender, and genetic risk factors.

How do we treat osteoarthritis of the knee?

The symptoms of knee osteoarthritis are effectively managed, but there is no treatment for the underlying problem. Staying active and maintaining a healthy weight decreases the progression of the disease. Supervised physical therapy could guide you on the type of exercise that is helpful.

There are many medications that are available to manage your symptoms. You can manage your pain with acetaminophen (Tylenol). In case of continued symptoms, you can manage your symptoms with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications. If you are regularly taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, we do need to regularly monitor your kidney and liver tests. If you have underlying kidney disease or liver disease, you should avoid NSAIDs.

Your physical therapist could also help you find knee braces. You can also receive injections into your knee with steroid or visco-supplementation, which could lead to transient improvement of your symptoms. If you exhaust all the non-operative treatment, surgery could be considered.

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