Knee Arthritis

Understanding Your Condition

I’ve been told I have knee arthritis. What does that mean?

Knee arthritis is a generic term for inflammation of the knee joint. Osteoarthritis is by far the most common form of knee arthritis. Other forms of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, though these are less common. Osteoarthritis is generally thought of as ‘wear and tear’ of the joint, and because of this, it is often called degenerative arthritis. Over time the cartilage cushion in the knee breaks down, and the bone sees abnormally high forces. This results in inflammation and pain.

What are common symptoms of knee arthritis?

The most common symptom of knee osteoarthritis is pain. The pain is often a dull ache, similar to a toothache. However, the pain can be sharp and stabbing. Another common symptom of knee osteoarthritis includes intermittent swelling, also known as a knee effusion or ‘water on the knee.’ This is caused by excessive joint fluid in the knee. Knee pain and swelling may be accompanied by knee stiffness.

How is knee arthritis diagnosed?

Knee arthritis is diagnosed with a combination of history, physical examination, and imaging. Knee x-rays are the most imaging technique to establish the diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis. If inflammatory arthritis is suspected, then some laboratory tests may be ordered to help confirm the diagnosis.

What are the treatments for knee arthritis?

The first-line treatments for knee osteoarthritis are non-surgical. They include activity modification with low-impact activities, such as biking and swimming. In addition, weight loss can reduce the pressure on arthritic joints and help with arthritis pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) can be useful to reduce joint inflammation and pain. These medications can have adverse effects on the stomach and kidneys, so you should discuss with your primary care physician prior to starting NSAID therapy. Physical therapy or a physician-directed home exercise program can be useful to improve knee range of motion and strengthen the muscles around the knee. Knee injections with corticosteroid can be helpful to reduce inflammation in the joint and relieve pain.

How can I learn more about knee arthritis?

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