What is knee arthritis?

Knee arthritis is also called degenerative joint disease. It is a wear-and-tear condition that is marked by the progressive loss of articular cartilage. The articular cartilage is the slippery, white cartilage-covering on the ends of the bones; it plays an important role in joint health. With age, injury, or repetitive motion, the articular cartilage can wear. Eventually enough cartilage can wear away, allowing the movement of bone-on-bone. The result is a painful, inflammatory process called osteoarthritis. Our experts at BICMD can diagnose your knee osteoarthritis through a virtual telemedicine encounter. BICMD physicians are the top experts in the country at diagnosing and suggesting treatment options for patients with knee osteoarthritis.

What causes arthritis in the knee?

There are different factors that can cause osteoarthritis in the knee, with the most common being wear-and-tear from age and repetitive motion. Other causes and risk factors include:

  • Weight – Excessive weight increases pressure on the knee joint, causing early wear of the cartilage
  • Heredity – Genetics plays a role in osteoarthritis and may predispose an individual to develop osteoarthritis of the knee. Inherited bone abnormalities can also increase the likelihood of knee osteoarthritis.
  • Repetitive Stress Injury – Individuals who have jobs that require added force on the knee, or constant activity like kneeling, squatting or lifting heavy objects can have repeated stress injuries which increase the rate of wear on the cartilage and can cause osteoarthritis in the knee.
  • Gender – Women over 55 are more likely to develop osteoarthritis of the knee than men.
  • Athletics – Athletes who participate in certain types of sports put the knee at greater risk of developing osteoarthritis.
  • Illness – Individuals with certain types of illness are more likely to develop knee osteoarthritis. These could include individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, metabolic disorders, iron overload or who have excessive growth hormones.

What are the grades of osteoarthritis in the knee?

Osteoarthritis is classified according to the amount of wear on the articular cartilage surface of the knee. Orthopedic specialists assign grades of degeneration by the following:

  • Grade 1 – Softening of the articular cartilage, showing early damage
  • Grade 2 – Pitting and small fissuring of the articular cartilage surface
  • Grade 3 – The articular cartilage shows damage with a split or crack down to the bone
  • Grade 4 – Complete wear of the articular cartilage with the bone exposed

What are the symptoms of knee arthritis?

The symptoms of knee osteoarthritis often develop over time. Symptoms include:

  • Joint stiffness and pain
  • Swelling that makes it difficult to bend or straighten the knee
  • Warmth, redness and tenderness in the joint
  • Pain with activity
  • Pain after sitting for a period of time, often noticeable first thing in the morning
  • Crepitus or a creaking, crunching, or popping sound in the joint
  • Joint instability or the sensation that the knee might “give way”
  • Increased pain and achiness with bad weather

How is knee arthritis diagnosed?

Arthritis in the knee can be diagnosed through x-ray. An x-ray can create a detailed picture of the bones of the knee and can help distinguish different causes of knee pain. Often an MRI will be requested which will allow the doctor to determine the amount and grade of damage to the articular cartilage. The amount of damage will help determine the best treatment for knee arthritis. An MRI will also show the other structures of the knee and if further treatments need to occur.

How is arthritis in the knee treated?

Non-surgical treatment:

The goal of knee arthritis treatment is to relieve pain and reestablish mobility. Conservative measures include weight loss, activity modification, physical therapy, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication and corticosteroid injections.

Surgical Treatment:

Surgery for knee osteoarthritis should only be considered when conservative treatments have failed to alleviate pain. There are different methods for treating knee osteoarthritis and should be based on the patient’s age, activity level, health and amount of degeneration of the joint. Surgical treatments often used to treat knee osteoarthritis include:

  • Arthroscopy – Minimally invasive surgery using a small camera called an arthroscope, used in conjunction with specialized instruments inserted through small incisions to operate within the knee. Arthroscopy of the knee is more frequently used to treat other knee conditions, such as a torn meniscus. Treatment of osteoarthritis through arthroscopy is less common but does allow the surgeon can clean up the joint, remove bone spurs and loose particles.
  • Knee Osteotomy – A procedure where one or both of the bones of the knee are reshaped to relieve pressure on the portion of the joint that is causing pain. A knee osteotomy is appropriate for younger individuals who have early-stage knee osteoarthritis.
  • Knee Replacement – Also called knee arthroplasty. The orthopedic surgeon removes the damaged bone and cartilage, replacing it with a new metal and plastic joint called a prosthesis. This recreates the joint and restores function to the knee. Knee replacement is usually reserved for patients over 50 with severe osteoarthritis of the knee.

For more information on knee osteoarthritis and the possible treatment options you should consider, or to  have your knee condition evaluated by one of our experts, please click on “Connect With a Doctor” to reach one of our orthopedic telemedicine experts.