Arthritis is inflammation of one or more of the joints of the body. The most common type of knee arthritis is osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, but there are more than 100 different forms of arthritis that can affect a variety of joints in the body. Arthritis is especially common in the knee.
The knee is the largest and strongest joint in the body. The knee joint is formed by the upper leg bone or thighbone (femur) and the lower leg bone or shinbone (tibia). The patella (kneecap) sits in front of the knee joint. The ends of the bones in the knee joint are covered with cartilage, which is a smooth, slick substance that protects and cushions the bones as the knee is bent and straightened.
Primary types of arthritis of the knee
- Osteoarthritis:A degenerative “wear and tear” type of arthritis where the knee joint gradually wears away. This causes bone to rub on bone and can produce bone spurs. Osteoarthritis develops slowly, and the pain increases overtime.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: A chronic disease that attacks multiple joints throughout the body. It can affect the same joint on both sides of the body. The synovial membrane that lines the knee joint begins to swell, which results in pain and stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease which means the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues and damages the cartilage and ligaments while softening the bone.
- Post-traumatic arthritis: A form of arthritis that develops after an injury to the knee, such as a broken bone, meniscal tear or ligament injury. These injuries can cause instability and additional wear of the knee joint that over time can lead to arthritis.
Arthritis has no single specific cause, but there are certain factors that may make you more likely to develop the disease, including:
- Increasing age
- Family history of arthritis
- Previous injury to the knee joint
The most common symptom of knee arthritis is pain and inflammation. Pain and swelling may be worse in the morning, or after sitting or resting. Vigorous activity may cause pain to flare up. Additional symptoms may include:
- The joint may become stiff and swollen, making it difficult to bend and straighten the knee
- Loose fragments of cartilage and other tissue can interfere with the smooth motion of joints. The knee may “lock” or “stick” during movement. It may creak, click, snap or make a grinding noise (crepitus)
- Pain may cause a feeling of weakness or buckling in the knee
- Many people with arthritis note increased joint pain with rainy weather
- Knee arthritis can make it hard to do many everyday activities, such as walking or climbing stairs
There is no cure for arthritis in the knee; however there are a number of treatment options that can help relieve pain and improve mobility. Nonsurgical treatment options include:
- Activity minimization such as switching from high impact activity to low impact activity
- Weight loss
- Physical therapy
- Assistive devices such as a cane, wearing a brace or shoe inserts. A brace assists with stability and function by shifting weight away from the affected portion of the knee or supporting the entire knee load.
- Medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or naproxen
- Corticosteroid (cortisone) injections
- Viscosupplementation involves injecting substances into the joint to improve the quality of the joint fluid
If nonsurgical treatment options for knee arthritis symptoms fail to provide pain relief, surgery may be recommended by one of Raleigh Orthopaedic’s total joint replacement surgeons. Knee replacement surgery is a procedure where the damaged cartilage and bone are removed and replaced by new artificial joint surfaces to restore the function of the knee. The goal is to relieve the pain of arthritis and makes it possible to perform daily activities more easily.
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