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Osteoarthritis Health Center

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Osteoarthritis of the Knee (Degenerative Arthritis of the Knee)

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What Are the Symptoms of Knee Osteoarthritis?

Symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee may include:

  • pain that increases when you are active, but gets a little better with rest
  • swelling
  • feeling of warmth in the joint
  • stiffness in the knee, especially in the morning or when you have been sitting for a while
  • decrease in mobility of the knee, making it difficult to get in and out of chairs or cars, use the stairs, or walk
  • creaking, crackly sound that is heard when the knee moves

How Is Osteoarthritis of the Knee Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis will begin with a physical exam by your doctor. Your doctor will also take your medical history and note any symptoms. Make sure to note what makes the pain worse or better to help your doctor determine if osteoarthritis, or something else, may be causing your pain. Also find out if anyone else in your family has arthritis. Your doctor may order additional testing, including:

MRI scans may be ordered when X-rays do not give a clear reason for joint pain or when the X-rays suggest that other types of joint tissue could be damaged. Doctors may use blood tests to rule out other conditions that could be causing the pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, a different type of arthritis caused by a disorder in the immune system.

How Is Osteoarthritis of the Knee Treated?

The primary goals of treating osteoarthritis of the knee are to relieve the pain and return mobility. The treatment plan will typically include a combination of the following:

  • Weight loss. Losing even a small amount of weight, if needed, can significantly decrease knee pain from osteoarthritis.
  • Exercise. Strengthening the muscles around the knee makes the joint more stable and decreases pain. Stretching exercises help keep the knee joint mobile and flexible.
  • Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs. This includes over-the-counter choices such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen sodium (Aleve). Don't take over-the-counter medications for more than 10 days without checking with your doctor. Taking them for longer increases the chance of side effects. If over-the-counter medications don't provide relief, your doctor may give you a prescription anti-inflammatory drug or other medication to help ease the pain.
  • Injections of corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid into the knee. Steroids are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs. Hyaluronic acid is normally present in joints as a type of lubricating fluid.
  • Alternative therapies. Some alternative therapies that may be effective include topical creams with capsaicin, acupuncture, or supplements, including glucosamine and chondroitin or SAMe.
  • Using devices such as braces. There are two types of braces: "unloader" braces, which take the weight away from the side of the knee affected by arthritis; and "support" braces, which provide support for the entire knee.
  • Physical and occupational therapy. If you are having trouble with daily activities, physical or occupational therapy can help. Physical therapists teach you ways to strengthen muscles and increase flexibility in your joint. Occupational therapists teach you ways to perform regular, daily activities, such as housework, with less pain.
  • Surgery. When other treatments don't work, surgery is a good option.

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