Key Points about Knee Arthritis

  • Knee arthritis is a condition in which the tissue that lines the ends of the bones in the knee joint becomes worn down.
  • The main symptom of knee arthritis is pain that worsens during physical activity, in the morning, after long periods of sitting, or in rainy weather.
  • The pain may be accompanied by swelling, a feeling of warmth in the affected knee, stiffness, or a grating sensation when using the knee.
  • Symptoms of knee arthritis can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers, weight loss, physical therapy, and steroid injections.
Common related conditions
Knee Fractures Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome Thigh and Lower Leg Fractures Knee Dislocation

Overview

In patients with knee arthritis, the tissue that lines the ends of the bones in the knee joint becomes worn down, leading to knee pain. This pain often increases over time, as the cartilage continues to break down.

The pain from knee arthritis may be accompanied by swelling, stiffness, or buckling of the knee. Symptoms may worsen early in the morning, while exercising, after sitting for long periods of time, or in rainy weather.

People who are over age 45, are overweight, who have rheumatoid arthritis, or who have an occupation, hobby or exercise routine that causes repeated stress on the knee may be more likely to develop knee arthritis.

Call your doctor if you have chronic knee pain that interferes with your daily life. Your doctor can help set up a treatment and pain management plan that works for you.

Knee arthritis causes

Symptoms of knee arthritis occur when the tissue that lines the ends of the leg bones, which meet at the knee, become worn down. This wearing-down can result from chronic overuse of the knee joint, which may be worsened by being overweight or by playing sports that repeatedly stress the knees.

Knee arthritis risk factors

You may be more likely to develop knee arthritis if you:

  • Are over age 45, as damaged cartilage does not heal as easily with older age
  • Are a woman
  • Are overweight, as more body weight means more stress on the knee joints
  • Play a sport with repetitive movements that stress the knees, such as long-distance running or tennis
  • Have an occupation or hobby that repeatedly stresses the knees
  • Have existing conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis

Knee arthritis symptoms

A person with knee arthritis may notice:

  • Pain, inflammation and swelling in the knee, that usually increases slowly over time
  • Increased knee pain during physical activity, in the morning, after sitting for long periods of time, or in rainy weather
  • Stiffness in the knee that inhibits the ability to bend and straighten the joint
  • Locking, buckling, sticking or weakness in the knee while moving around

Knee arthritis complications

The chronic pain from knee arthritis can inhibit daily activities, and lead to missed workdays.

Knee arthritis diagnosis

When assessing possible knee arthritis, your doctor will conduct a physical examination, looking for:

  • Swelling, tenderness, redness or warmth around the knee
  • Limited range of motion in the knee
  • A grinding or grating feeling when the joint moves
  • Pain in the knee while walking
  • Signs of rheumatoid arthritis, which would mean other joints are affected as well

Your doctor may also order diagnostic imaging tests such as:

  • An X-ray
  • MRI scan
  • CT scan

Knee arthritis treatment

Because there is no cure for arthritis, treatment aims to alleviate pain and enable physical activity. To relieve symptoms, your doctor may recommend:

  • Losing weight, to decrease stress on the knee joints
  • Physical therapy exercises, to strengthen knee and leg muscles
  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and pain relievers

If these measures do not significantly decrease your pain, your doctor may also recommend:

  • Corticosteroid or hyaluronic acid injections into the knee
  • Topical creams
  • Braces to relieve pressure on the knee joint
  • Surgery, to either remove cartilage that is damaged, readjust knee alignment, or replace the joints altogether

When to seek care

Call your doctor if you experience chronic knee pain that interferes with your daily activities.

Next Steps

Talk to you doctor to set up a long-term pain management plan that works for you.