What is arthritis in the knee?

Arthritis in the knee is inflammation in the knee joint. Arthritis in the knee makes completing everyday activities a challenge.

Although there are more than 100 different forms of arthritis, arthritis in the knee is most commonly caused by osteoarthritis with the cartilage gradually wearing away until the bones rub on bones.

Causes of arthritis in the knee

  • Injuries to the knee — knee arthritis can appear many years after a meniscus tear or other ligament tear.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis — the immune system may attack the healthy tissues in the knee and soften the bone.
  • Osteoarthritis — osteoarthritis in the knee occurs when the knee cartilage gradually wears away from use.

Risk factors for arthritis in the knee

  • Age — arthritis in the knee typically affects people over the age of 50.
  • Gender — women are more likely to develop arthritis in the knee.
  • Repetitive motions — repetitive movements may cause the cartilage to wear down and put you at higher risk for arthritis in the knee.
  • Low bone density

Symptoms of arthritis in the knee

Symptoms of knee arthritis include:

  • A stiff, swollen knee joint that may be hard to bend
  • Pain in the morning or after periods of rest or inactivity
  • Increased pain, stiffness and swelling during rainy weather
  • Vigorous activity causes more pain

Diagnosis of arthritis in the knee

Knee arthritis is diagnosed in a complete physical with your orthopedic physician.

In the physical exam, your physician will evaluate you for the following:

  • Joint swelling or tenderness in the knee
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Knee joint instability
  • Signs of injury to the muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding the knee

Your provider may also order diagnostic tests, like x-rays, CT scans or a MRI, to determine the condition of the bone and soft tissue in the knee. If your physician suspects you have rheumatoid arthritis, he or she may order a blood test.

Treatments for arthritis in the knee

Because there is not a cure for arthritis, the goal of treatment is to relieve the symptoms, prevent joint destruction and ensure you maintain your activity level.

Nonsurgical treatments for knee arthritis

  • Rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medications
  • Lifestyle modification — your doctor may encourage you to minimize the activities that affect the condition, try lower impact sports, such as swimming, and lose weight.
  • Corticosteroids — injecting an anti-inflammatory steroid into joint to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Physical therapy or rehabilitation — your physician may recommend physical therapy exercises that can improve the flexibility or range of motion of the knee.
  • Brace — a brace can assist with the stability and function of the knee, either supporting the entire knee or shifting weight away from the impacted area of the knee.
  • Disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs — disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs can slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis.

Surgical treatment for knee arthritis

  • Cartilage grafting — healthy cartilage is taken and placed in areas of the knee where the cartilage is damaged. This procedure is typically performed on younger patients.
  • Synovectomy — when rheumatoid arthritis damages the knee joint lining, it is removed to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Knee osteotomy — the tibia or femur is cut and reshaped in order to relieve the pressure on the knee joint and improve function in the impacted knee by shifting weight off damaged side of knee.
  • Knee replacement (arthroscopy) — your physician will remove damaged cartilage and replace it with a metal or plastic joint to restore the function of the knee.

Recovery from arthritis in the knee

Recovery time after knee surgery is dependent on the type of procedure that is done as well as the intensity of the rehabilitation program. Most patients can resume day-to-day activities after knee surgery procedures.

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