Symptoms of knee osteoarthritis

Symptoms of osteoarthritis in the knee often come on gradually and can include:

  • Pain in your knee joint that worsens after activity or at the end of the day and eases when resting
  • Pain that extends up or down your leg
  • Stiffness in your knee joint, usually in the morning or after rest, that eases within 30 minutes or after walking
  • Swelling of your knee joint
  • Muscle weakness in your leg
  • Grinding sound or sensation when your knee moves
  • Feeling like your knee ‘locks up’ or gives way during activity

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, or they concern you, it is important to speak with your doctor. To diagnose knee osteoarthritis, your doctor will review your signs, symptoms, and risk factors and examine your knee.

Who is at risk of developing osteoarthritis in the knee?

Factors that can increase your risk of developing knee osteoarthritis include:

  • Age over 45 years
  • Being a woman
  • Family history of knee osteoarthritis (genetics)
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Previous injury or damage to your knee joint
  • Heavy physical or repetitive activity involving your knee joint

Management options for knee osteoarthritis

It is important to work with your doctor and other healthcare professionals to create a management plan that is best for you. Learning more about the different ways to help relieve your knee osteoarthritis pain can help reduce its effect on your day-to-day life. Some management options include:

Weight management
Weight management is key for reducing the risk of knee osteoarthritis, as being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing knee osteoarthritis and can speed up how quickly it progresses. Even a small amount of weight loss — about 5% of your body weight — can improve the pain and stiffness in your knee. Speak with your doctor about the most appropriate strategies to lose weight.

Exercise
Exercise is vital for managing knee osteoarthritis. A combination of walking, muscle strength training targeting your legs, balance training, range of motion exercises, and general fitness training is recommended to help reduce pain and improve function in your knee. Water-based (aquatic) exercises may be beneficial to ease the pressure on your joints. Your doctor or physiotherapist can advise you on appropriate exercises to help manage your symptoms.

Medications
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be suitable for some people to help temporarily relieve acute flare up pain associated with osteoarthritis. Other medications that may provide some benefit for temporarily relieving the pain of knee osteoarthritis include oral paracetamol. Speak with your doctor about the right medications for your condition.

Other nonsurgical options
Other therapies that can help you manage your knee osteoarthritis include:

  • Cane or walking aid to improve balance and mobility
  • Knee braces or taping to support the knee joint
  • Heat packs to relieve pain
  • Mind and body activities such as psychological therapies (e.g. cognitive behavioral therapy), mindfulness practices, and pain coaching

Surgical treatments

Some people may still experience pain and limited knee function, even after treatment with nonsurgical options. Surgery to replace the whole knee (called a total joint replacement) can help relieve pain and improve function, but it is a major surgery and requires months of rehabilitation.

Speak with your doctor if you have any questions about managing your knee osteoarthritis.

Prevention of osteoarthritis in the knee

Some risk factors for knee osteoarthritis, such as your age, sex, and genetics, are unavoidable. However, there are a number of lifestyle factors that you can target to help improve your knee health, including maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise.

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References:

  • 1

    Musculoskeletal Australia 2019. Osteoarthritis of the knee. Released March 2020. Accessed
    August 2020. https:/www.msk.org.au/osteoarthritis-knee/

  • 2

    The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners 2018. Guideline for the management of
    knee and hip osteoarthritis. 2nd Ed. East Melbourne, Vic: RACGP. Published July 2018.
    Accessed August 2020. https://www.racgp.org.au/clinical-resources/clinical-
    guidelines/guidelines-by-topic/view-all-guidelines-by-topic/musculoskeletal-health/knee-and-
    hip-osteoporosis

  • 3

    Kolasinski SL, Neogi T, Hochberg MC, et al. 2019 American College of
    Rheumatology/Arthritis Foundation Guideline for the Management of Osteoarthritis of the Hand,
    Hip, and Knee. Arthritis Rheumatol. 2020;72(2):220-233.

  • 4

    Bannuru RR, Osani MC, Vaysbrot EE, et al. OARSI guidelines for the non-surgical
    management of knee, hip, and polyarticular osteoarthritis. Ostevarthritis Cartilage.
    2019;27(11):1578-1589.

  • 5

    Arthritis Australia 2018. Tips for OA of the knee and hip. Reviewed February 2018. Accessed
    August 2020. https://arthritisaustralia.com.au/wordpress/wp-contentv/uploads/2018/02/TipsOsteoarthritisHipKnee_0902.pdf