Arthritis of the Knee
Arthritis of the knee can cause pain, stiffness, and a cracking sensation in the joint. This usually leads to limited range of motion and weakness in the knee that can affect daily activities. Treatment for arthritis of the knee can help ease your symptoms and restore mobility so that you can maintain a healthier, more active lifestyle.
Arthritis can occur in one or both knees. The most common type of knee arthritis is osteoarthritis, which is the degeneration of the cartilage that cushions the bones. There are three main compartments at the knee joint where articular cartilage protects the bones, and cartilage degeneration may occur in one, two, or all three compartments.
- Medial compartment: Between the tibia (shin bone) and femur (thigh bone) on the inside of the knee
- Lateral compartment: Between the tibia (shin bone) and femur (thigh bone) on the outside of the knee
- Patellofemoral compartment: Between the femur (thigh bone) and patella (knee cap) on the front of the knee
Symptoms of arthritis in the knee can include:
- Stiffness in the knee, especially in the morning
- Decreased range of motion in the knee
- Weakness in the knee due to lack of use
- Pain that worsens over time, especially at night
- Buckling or locking of the knee
- Audible crackling or popping sensation upon movement
Treatment for arthritis of the knee begins with symptom management. There is no known cure for arthritis, but proactive treatment can alleviate your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
- Anti-Inflammatory Medications: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can decrease inflammation and pain caused by knee arthritis. These are often recommended in addition to physical therapy to minimize pain while patients regain motion and strength.
- Physical Therapy (PT): PT may be recommended to improve range of motion and strength in the affected knee. It can also help train the muscles to compensate for the decreased range of motion. Coupled with daily walking of at least 1.5 miles, PT facilitates more mobility and better quality of life for patients with knee arthritis.
- Lifestyle Modifications: Some patients will benefit from lifestyle modifications, such as limiting or stopping certain activities that cause or aggravate pain. This may include avoiding high-impact exercises (such as running and jumping) and regularly engaging in low-impact exercises to manage symptoms. Walking aids and/or knee braces may be recommended to stabilize the knee joint.
- Weight Loss: Where appropriate, weight loss can reduce stress on the knee joint and slow the gradual wear and tear that is caused by arthritis.
- Injections: Patients who need temporary pain relief or who cannot undergo surgery may benefit from injections to the knee joint. Steroid and hyaluronic acid injections can both be effective for knee arthritis.
- Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat arthritis in the knee. When only one or two knee compartments is involved, a partial knee replacement may be appropriate. When all three knee compartments are involved, a total knee replacement with an artificial implant will usually provide a better outcome. Surgery should not be considered until after conservative treatments are attempted and patients have persistent dysfunction and symptoms that significantly impact their daily lives.
Frequently Asked Questions
Arthritis in the knee is usually caused by gradual wear and tear over time.
There is no cure for arthritis, but treatment can help lessen your symptoms.
Unfortunately, once the arthritic deterioration of the articular cartilage in the knee joint begins, it will almost always progress or worsen. However, effective treatment can slow arthritis down considerably and help you live a full, enjoyable life.
The best treatment for knee arthritis will depend on your individual situation. Usually, some combination of medications, injections, and physical therapy will be recommended. Surgery will usually not be considered until other treatments have failed.
The recovery after knee surgery varies depending on the details of your procedure. Your orthopedic surgeon will provide you with more information before you undergo your procedure so that you can be prepared.
If you have arthritis in one or two components of your knee, you may experience good results with a partial knee replacement. If you have arthritis in all three components of your knee, you may need a total knee replacement to adequately address the cartilage degeneration and sufficiently manage your symptoms.
If you are experiencing significant symptoms from arthritis in your knee, and they are impacting your quality of life, you should consult an orthopedic surgeon. He or she will be able to evaluate your symptoms and recommend whether knee surgery may be appropriate for you.