Osteoarthritis of the knee happens when cartilage in your knee joint breaks down. When this happens, the bones in your knee joint rub together, causing friction that makes your knees hurt, become stiff or swell. Osteoarthritis in the knee can’t be cured but there are treatments that can relieve symptoms and slow your condition’s progress.
Osteoarthritis of the knee happens when the cartilage in your knee joint breaks down, enabling the bones to rub together. The friction makes your knees hurt, become stiff and sometimes swell. While osteoarthritis in the knee can’t be cured, there are many treatments to slow its progress and ease your symptoms. Surgery is an option for more severe forms of osteoarthritis.
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Osteoarthritis of the knee is very common. Approximately 46% of people will develop it during their lifetimes.
Women are more likely than men to develop osteoarthritis of the knee. Most people develop this condition after age 40. But other factors such as injury or genetics can cause it to happen earlier.
Knee pain is the most common symptom of osteoarthritis in the knee, making it painful for you to jog, run, climb stairs or kneel. It can also make your knees feel stiff or swollen. Over time, osteoarthritis of the knee can change the shape of your knee joint, making your joint feel unstable or wobbly.
Osteoarthritis of the knee happens when your knee joint cartilage wears out or is damaged. Articular cartilage is tough, rubbery tissue on the ends of your bones that lets you bend and move. Meniscal cartilage absorbs shock from pressure on your knee.
Your cartilage is like your car’s shock absorber, protecting your car from bumps and jolts. Drive on lots of rough roads, your shocks wear out fast. Drive on easy streets, your shocks last longer. You can wear out or damage your knee joint cartilage if:
Pain is the most common symptom of osteoarthritis in the knee. Your knee might hurt when you move it, or even when you are just sitting still. Other symptoms are:
Your healthcare provider will do a physical examination and ask about your medical history. The physical examination might include checks to see:
Treatment might include nonsurgical treatments, injections and surgery. Typically, healthcare providers try non-surgical treatments before recommending surgery.
Your provider might recommend surgery if:
While you can’t always prevent osteoarthritis of the knee, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk you’ll develop it:
Unfortunately, the effects of osteoarthritis of the knee can’t be reversed. But treatment and self-care can help relieve your symptoms and slow your condition’s progress.
You might always need pain medication to ease your symptoms. Many people find exercise and physical therapy helps their symptoms. People also benefit from self-management programs that provide information about living with osteoarthritis of the knee. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways you can use exercise and other self-care to manage your symptoms.
It can be frustrating to cope with osteoarthritis of the knee symptoms that keep you from working or enjoying daily activities. Fortunately, there are several things you can do for your symptoms:
You should contact your provider if your knee hurts for no reason, or you have knee pain that’s getting worse.
You should go to the emergency room or contact your healthcare provider if your knee hurts and feels warm to the touch or your skin looks red. These are signs you might have an infection.
Osteoarthritis of the knee can weaken your calf, thigh and hip muscles, but there’s no indication this muscle weakness is painful.
Osteoarthritis of the knee causes your leg bones to rub together, which can lead to painful bone spurs.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Osteoarthritis of the knee develops over time. You might not notice the twinge or ache that could be the first sign of knee osteoarthritis. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have knee pain that’s getting worse. Your provider can help you treat your symptoms and keep you moving. Early treatment can ease the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee and slow its progress.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/08/2021.
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