10 Things to Know About Knee Arthritis

  • Knee arthritis is common.
    Knee arthritis is common.
    If you have knee osteoarthritis, you're in good company. Surveys indicate about 14 million Americans struggle with knee arthritis, and it's especially common among older adults. Although there is no cure, the right treatment can reduce pain and stiffness so you can stay active and enjoy life more. Here are 10 key things to know.

  • MRI scan result of knee on computer monitor
    1. Knee osteoarthritis is "wear and tear" of the knee.
    Knee arthritis occurs when the cartilage of the knee joint gradually erodes. Cartilage is a rubbery, slippery tissue at the ends of bones. Without the gliding, cushioning effect of cartilage, the bones of the knee joint rub together. The knee can't move easily and becomes stiff, swollen and painful.

  • Man holding knee
    2. Symptoms usually develop gradually.
    Early symptoms of knee arthritis may be aching joints after physical activity or stiffness first thing in the morning. With time, symptoms may occur more often. It becomes harder to walk, climb stairs, and get in and out of chairs.

  • Man with walker
    3. Knee arthritis can affect your whole life.
    Although most people have mild knee arthritis, it can become severe. Knee arthritis can interfere with daily tasks and your ability to take part in family and work activities. Weight gain frequently follows the inability to exercise, worsening joint damage. Living with this painful condition can contribute to chronic mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

  • Knee arthritis treatment
    4. There is no cure, but treatment can help.
    To relieve pain and stay active, you may need a comprehensive approach. Weight loss, exercise, medication, alternative therapies, and surgery are important elements to this approach.

  • standing-on-scale
    5. Trim your weight to ease knee stress.
    If you're overweight, losing just 5% of your current weight can improve your arthritis symptoms. Every pound lost takes 4 pounds of stress off your knees. Shedding pounds isn't easy, but a healthy weight will go a long way toward keeping you active.

  • Senior swimming
    6. Exercise is one of the best treatments.
    You can still exercise with a bum knee. Low-impact aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming, water aerobics, and cycling, relieves arthritis pain. Stretching and strengthening your leg muscles helps, too. Adding just a little activity to your day several times a week can make a big difference in your symptoms.

  • pills-in-prescription-bottle
    7. Medication combats pain and inflammation.
    Acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and topical creams and sprays are common therapies. Mild narcotic painkillers and injections of drugs that tame inflammation or improve joint lubrication are sometimes used. Which medication is best for you depends on the severity of your pain, your other health problems, and the other medicines you take.

  • Knee arthritis and alternative therapies
    8. Non-drug and alternative therapies may be worth trying.
    Physical therapy can improve joint function, while occupational therapy teaches you how to move smarter to minimize pain. Acupuncture, massage, and electrical stimulation of the nerves (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS) improve symptoms for some people.

  • Caucasian woman in bathrobe preparing bathtub
    9. Self-care means less ouch.
    Pay attention to your body's signals so you know when it's time to slow down or rest. A good night's sleep and a healthy diet will help you cope better with your arthritis. When flare-ups occur, apply hot or cold packs or warm towels to your knee, or take a warm bath. Cold lessens inflammation, while heat boosts circulation and eases pain and stiffness.

  • Surgery
    10. There are several surgical options.
    Any recommended surgery should be tailored for your specific condition. With knee replacement surgery, the entire knee or part of the knee is replaced with metal or plastic parts. This major surgical procedure can decrease pain and swelling and improve movement when the knee is very damaged. Removal of loose pieces of cartilage, smoothing of the knee's bony surfaces, and realignment of the bones are other surgical procedures that can reduce pain and disability.

10 Things to Know About Knee Arthritis
  1. Knee Replacement. The Journal of the American Medical Association. http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/305/8/844.full.pdf
  2. Osteoarthritis. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00227
  3. Osteoarthritis. Arthritis Foundation. https://www.arthritis.org/what-can-you-do-about-osteoarthritis.php
  4. Osteoarthritis of the Knee. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. http://www.effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/ehc/products/89/132/04082009_OsteoKneeConsumer.pdf
  5. Osteoarthritis. National Institutes of Health. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Osteoarthritis/default.asp
  6. Deshpande BR, Katz JN, Solomon DH, et al. Number of Persons With Symptomatic Knee Osteoarthritis in the US: Impact of Race and Ethnicity, Age, Sex, and Obesity. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2016;68(12):1743-1750. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27014966
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Last Review Date: 2019 Jun 10
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