Arthritis causes swelling and inflammation in the joints and often affects the knee. People may also feel knee stiffness, weakness, and crack noises when moving the knee.
Arthritis is a term that encompasses over 100 conditions that can cause inflammation or swelling of the joints or tissues. Many of these conditions can affect the knee.
This article describes the different symptoms of knee arthritis and explains what type of arthritis can cause it. It also provides information about diagnostic and treatment options.
Symptoms of arthritis in the knee can include:
- Knee pain and swelling after use, abuse, or trauma
- Knee pain and swelling that gets worse after long periods of inactivity such as sleeping, sitting, standing, or resting, or at the end of the day
- Knee stiffness and swelling in the knee, which can make it difficult to straighten or bend the knee properly
- a “lock” or “hold” when moving the knee
- a creak, click, crunch, or crack when moving the knee
- Pain that can worsen in rainy weather
- Weakness or kinking in the knee
Do the symptoms only affect one leg?
Osteoarthritis (OA), reactive arthritis, gout, and post-traumatic arthritis often cause pain in only one joint or side of the body, although they can affect both sides of the body.
Autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis tend to affect both sides of the body.
Is the pain continuous?
Gout, OA, post-traumatic, reactive, and infectious arthritis can cause persistent discomfort during the acute phase of the flare or seizure. However, some days the symptoms can be worse than others.
Other forms of arthritis may have symptoms that alternate between relapses and periods of remission when symptoms improve, such as:
Do the symptoms start in a smaller joint?
Many autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis, cause symptoms in smaller joints to appear before they hit the knee.
Lupus arthritis doesn’t usually start in the knee either. Early symptoms can affect fingers, wrists, elbows, ankles, and toes.
However, gout, infectious and reactive arthritis, post-traumatic injuries, and lupus all tend to hit the knee early.
Find out more about arthritis in the knee here.
The following types of arthritis can affect the knee.
OA is the most common arthritis and cause of knee arthritis. It is a degenerative disease that usually affects people over the age of 50 and is characterized by a gradual loss of articular cartilage.
OA occurs when the articular cartilage deteriorates as the joints age and wear, reducing the cushioning space between bones and creating painful growths called bone spurs.
Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body and several at the same time.
Post traumatic arthritis
Post-traumatic arthritis occurs after a knee injury. Post-traumatic arthritis can affect the ligaments and cartilage that stabilize and support the joint.
Gout occurs when uric acid crystals build up in joints, fluids, and tissues. Gout can also hit the ankles or feet.
Learn more about how osteoarthritis develops in the knee here.
Some forms of arthritis can cause symptoms throughout the body. Below is a list of these types of arthritis and their symptoms:
- light fever
- unexplained exhaustion and tiredness due to anemia
- Eye pain and redness due to inflammation
- Chest pain, shortness of breath, and dry cough due to lung or heart involvement
- Numbness and tingling in the arms and legs due to neuropathy
- Stiffness and pain in the lower back and buttocks
- patches of itchy, reddened, or silvery skin
- Nail change
- Inflammation of the eyes
Lupus is an autoimmune disease. Arthritis is a common symptom of this disease, which has the following characteristics:
- Genital discomfort with or without lesions
- Gastrointestinal complaints
Reactive arthritis commonly affects men between the ages of 20 and 50.
- a sudden, severe onset of symptoms
- Fever and chills
However, infectious arthritis most commonly affects the knees. It rarely affects more than one joint.
Learn more about other autoimmune diseases here.
The best type of treatment for knee arthritis depends on the cause.
Non-surgical treatment options
Some common non-surgical treatments for OA in the knee include:
- regular, low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming or cycling
- Apply heat or ice several times a day
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as acetaminophen
- Minimizing physical activity that puts pressure or weight on the knee, such as walking. B. Sitting on your knees, kneeling or climbing stairs
- Use assistive devices such as knee braces, shoe insoles, or a stick
- Use of OTC pain relieving creams or ointments
- Taking glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements
- Participation in physical therapy sessions where a professional therapist can develop a customized exercise program to increase flexibility and freedom of movement
- reduce stress
- Try alternative therapies like acupuncture or magnetic pulse therapy
Prescription Treatment Options
To treat arthritis, a doctor may also prescribe:
- immunosuppressive or disease-modifying drugs
- Injections of corticosteroids, which are anti-inflammatory drugs, or joint lubricants every few months
- Antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections
Surgical treatment options
If home remedies or prescription drugs don’t work, a doctor may recommend surgery.
Types of operations include:
- Synovectomy: A surgeon will remove the damaged joint lining.
- Cartilage transplant: A surgeon will use healthy knee cartilage to fill holes in the articular cartilage.
- Endoprosthetics: A surgeon will replace all or part of the knee joint.
- Osteotomy: A surgeon cuts or reforms the shin or femur to relieve pressure on the knee.
Performing strengthening and stretching exercises in addition to low impact exercises can often help improve joint function and mobility. It can be effective in relieving the symptoms of knee arthritis.
It’s important to start repetitions or intensity over time and then gradually increase. It’s also important to keep doing the exercises even if symptoms improve or go away.
Find out more about home remedies for arthritis here.
To diagnose knee arthritis, a doctor will do a physical exam of the knee and ask about symptoms.
A doctor may also order imaging tests to examine in detail the bones, cavities, and soft tissues of the joint, such as:
Doctors may also do blood tests to check for antibodies or autoimmune markers in the blood that are associated with arthritis, such as:
Doctors can measure CRP (C-reactive protein) levels and the rate of red blood cell sedimentation (ESR) in the blood. This can help determine if there is inflammation in the body.
Doctors can also examine small samples of fluids or skin, such as:
- Fluid aspiration and analysis: A sample can help diagnose gout or rheumatoid arthritis.
- Skin biopsy: A sample can help diagnose psoriatic arthritis and lupus.
Learn more about blood tests for rheumatoid arthritis here.
Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and post-traumatic arthritis are the most common forms of arthritis that affect the knee. Gout, reactive arthritis, and certain types of bacterial infections can also cause symptoms of knee arthritis.
Contact a doctor to discuss unexplained knee pain, swelling, or other symptoms. Many types of arthritis that tend to hit the knees are progressive or slowly get worse without effective treatment.
It is possible to treat most types of arthritis with home remedies, lifestyle adjustments, or prescription drugs.
In severe cases, some people may need surgery.