Arthritis is inflammation of one or more of your joints. The most common types of knee arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, but there are more than 100 different forms of arthritis that can affect a variety of joints in your body; however, arthritis is especially common in the knee.
Two bones meet to form your knee joint: your femur (upper leg bone or thighbone) and tibia (lower leg bone or shinbone). Your patella (kneecap) sits in front of the joint. Bones are connected to other bones by ligaments.
The ends of the bones in the knee joint are covered with articular cartilage. Cartilage is a smooth, slick substance that protects and cushions the bones as you bend and straighten your knee.
Primary Types of Arthritis of the Knee
- Osteoarthritis: The most common form of arthritis in the knee. It is a degenerative wear and tear type of arthritis where the cartilage in the knee joint gradually wears away. This causes bone rubbing on bone and can produce bone spurs. Osteoarthritis develops slowly, and the pain increases overtime.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: A chronic disease that attacks multiple joints throughout the body. It can affect the same joint on both sides of the body. The synovial membrane that covers the knee joint begins to swell, which results in knee pain and stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease which means the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues and damages the cartilage and ligaments while softening the bone.
- Post-traumatic arthritis: A form of arthritis that develops after an injury to the knee, such as a broken bone, meniscal tear or ligament injury. These injuries can cause instability and additional wear of the knee joint that over time can lead to arthritis.
Symptoms of Knee Arthritis
- A painful and inflamed knee
- Pain that develops gradually overtime
- Stiffness in the knee joint, which makes it difficult to bend and straighten the knee
- Activity is followed by pain in the knee joint
- Knee locks or sticks during movement
- Knee creaks, clicks, grinds or snaps
- A feeling of weakness or buckling in the knee
To determine whether you have arthritis in the knee your physician will ask you for a complete medical history, have you describe your symptoms and conduct a physical examination. An X-ray or MRI may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis and determine if there are other problems.
There is no cure for knee arthritis; however, there are a number of treatment options that can relieve pain.
Typically, all treatment for arthritic symptoms will initially start with nonsurgical treatment options including:
- Activity minimization such as switching from high impact activity to low impact activity
- Weight loss
- Physical therapy
- Assistive devices such as a cane or shoe inserts
- Medications, the mainstays of medication therapy are the NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) such as ibuprofen. Tylenol can also be effective.
- Corticosteroid (cortisone) injections
If nonsurgical treatment options offer no pain relief, your physician may recommend surgery. The type of knee surgery depends on your arthritis and symptoms. Some surgery options include:
- Arthroscopy: a small incision is made to treat joint problems; not especially common and primarily used when arthritis is accompanied by a degenerative meniscal tear.
- Osteotomy: either the tibia or femur is cut and then reshaped to relieve pressure on the knee joint; used when you have early-stage osteoarthritis that has only damaged one side of the knee, and used only for young, very active patients.
- Total or partial knee replacement: your physician will remove the damaged cartilage and bone, and replace it with new metal or plastic joint surfaces. These are highly successful and are mainstay of surgical treatment for arthritis. Advances in technology have made this procedure much safer, reliable and recovery has become much easier.
Physical therapy after any surgery may be recommended to regain strength and motion in your knee. Sometimes a knee brace, crutches or a cane will be necessary temporarily, i.e. for a few weeks, after surgery.
Learn more about having knee pain treated at OrthoIndy.