Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative arthritis, is a gradual breakdown of cartilage in the joints. Cartilage is a tough, flexible connective tissue that protects the ends of bones in the joints. Osteoarthritis is common in the knees because the knees bear the weight of the body. Osteoarthritis of the knee can severely impact a person's lifestyle.
Arthritis is a condition that causes pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and it commonly affects the knees. Arthritis of the knee may develop as the cartilage protecting the bones of the knee joint wears down over time. Over the years, as stress is put on the joints, cartilage wears thin and sometimes even erodes completely, resulting in stiffness and pain. Arthritis of the knee occurs more frequently in older individuals; however, it sometimes develops in athletes from overuse of the knee joint or after an injury.
Symptoms of arthritis of the knee may include pain, swelling and stiffness within the joint. Some individuals also experience a feeling of weakness in the knee that results in the knee locking or buckling. These symptoms tend to worsen after increased physical activity and as the condition progresses. Over time, as arthritis of the knee progresses, the knee joint becomes increasingly stiff and inflamed, difficult to move, and very painful, even when at rest.
To diagnose arthritis of the knee, a doctor will review all symptoms and perform a physical examination. X-rays and other imaging tests are often used to assess the amount of damage to the joint. Treatment for arthritis of the knee initially focuses on relieving pain and addressing symptoms and is commonly treated with a combination of methods. Avoiding certain physical activities that place stress on the knee may be helpful. Medication may also be used to treat pain and may include:
- Anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- Prescription pain relievers
- Corticosteroid injections
Physical therapy may be a successful form of treatment for some patients. Severe cases of osteoarthritis of the knee may require surgery to reposition the bones or replace the joint. Most procedures can be performed through arthroscopy, which significantly reduces bleeding, scarring and recovery times.