Osteoarthritis of the Knee

Arthritis is inflammation of one or more of your joints. Pain, swelling, and stiffness are the primary symptoms of arthritis. Knee arthritis can make it hard to do many everyday activities such as walking or climbing stairs. It is a major cause of lost work time and a serious disability for many people.

The knee is the largest and strongest joint in your body. It is made up of the lower end of the femur or thigh bone, the upper end of the tibia or shin bone, and the patella or knee cap. The ends of the three bones where they touch are covered with articular cartilage, a smooth slippery substance that protects and cushions the bones as you bend and straighten your knee. Two wedge-shaped pieces of cartilage called meniscus act as shock absorbers between your thigh bone and shin bone. They are tough and rubbery to help cushion the joint and keep it stable.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the knee. It is a degenerative wear-and-tear type of arthritis that occurs most often in people 50 years of age and older but may occur in younger people too. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage in the knee joint gradually wears away. As the cartilage wears away it becomes frayed and rough and the protective space between the bones decreases. This process can cause the body to produce bone spurs which can cause pain by putting pressure on adjacent tissues. Osteoarthritis develops slowly and the pain it causes worsens over time. Osteoarthritis often results in bone rubbing on bone which causes pain. Generally, the pain develops gradually over time although sudden onset is also possible. Other symptoms may also occur. The joint may become stiff and swollen making it difficult to bend and straighten the knee. Pain and swelling may be worse in the morning or after sitting or resting. Vigorous activity may cause pain to flare up. Loose fragments of the cartilage and other tissue can interfere with the smooth motion of joints. The knee may lock or stick during movement. It may creek, click, snap, or make a grinding noise called crepitus. Pain may cause a feeling of weakness or buckling in the knee. Many people with arthritis note increase joint pain with rainy weather. Most patients seek the advice of a medical professional when their symptoms begin to encroach on their quality of life or their activities of daily living.

During your appointment with your UNOVA doctor, you will discuss your symptoms and medical history, conduct a physical examination, and possibly order diagnostic tests such as x-rays or blood tests. During the physical examination your doctor will look for joint swelling, warmth or redness, tenderness about the knee, loss of range of motion, instability of the joint, crepitus – a grating sensation inside the joint with movement, pain when weight is placed on the knee, problems with your gait – the way you walk, any signs of injury to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments surrounding the knee, and involvement of other joints-an indication of rheumatoid arthritis.

Tests may be ordered, the most common being x-rays. These imaging tests create detailed pictures of the bone. X-rays may show a narrowing of the joint space, changes in the bone, and the formation of bone spurs or osteophytes. Other tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan) or computed tomography (CT scan) may be needed to determine the condition of the bone and soft tissue of your knee. After reviewing your medical history and your physical exam you and your UNOVA physician will develop a treatment plan for you to follow. This may include one or more of the following: additional testing, activity modification, physical therapy, medication, injections, and possibly surgery.

If it is determined that you are a surgical candidate you will be scheduled to see the medical assistant to select a date of surgery, obtain your final surgical planning x-rays, and participate in a joint replacement class. It is our goal to provide you with the information necessary to alleviate any anxiety you may have about the surgical process.

At UNOVA Hip and Knee Center, we will continuously strive to deliver the highest quality care in a patient-centered and friendly environment.