6 common symptoms of osteoarthritis in the knee
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis seen in the knee. It is degenerative in nature and most commonly occurs in older patients, though it can affect younger patients too.
Through “wear and tear”, the protective cartilage in the joint dwindles, becoming roughened and frayed. The space between the bones decreases, eventually leading to end stage osteoarthritis or better known as “bone on bone.” Before treating knee arthritis, it is important to recognize the symptoms so that a proper diagnosis can be ascertained.
Common symptoms of knee osteoarthritis include:
- Pain: The pain from knee osteoarthritis varies patient-to-patient. For some, the pain is dull, achy, and diffuse in location. For others, the pain is sharp and located in a particular area of the knee.
People frequently complain of pain with weight-bearing activities, including simple walking, getting up from a chair or out of a car, as well as, walking up or down stairs.
The pain in the knee typically is localized to the knee joint and does not travel down to the feet or up to the hip, and can affect how these every day movements are performed.
- Swelling: As the bones begin to grind, the cells in the joint will try to lubricate by producing increased amounts of joint fluid called synovial fluid. This can lead to swelling in the joint, commonly referred to as “water on the knee.” Occasionally, the fluid in the knee will balloon out the back of the knee, which is called a Baker’s cyst.
- Stiffness: As osteoarthritis progresses, patients often lose range of motion. Because of pain, patients are reluctant to move the knee, which leads to tightening of the muscles. When patients have large amounts of swelling, the pressure in the joint makes movement of extension (straightening) and/or flexion (bending) more difficult.
- Grinding: As the protective cartilage wears away, the joint loses its smooth surface, and patients can experience friction with knee motion. Additionally, as the bone gets irritated, it often responds by building more bone called bone spurs (osteophytes).
Osteophytes can break off into the joint, leaving patients with loose bodies that cause pain and grinding during motion. It is like having loose pebbles in your shoe when you walk.
- Weakness: Patients often times complain of weakness and buckling of the knee. This is typically a consequence of disuse. Also, a sharp and sudden pain can cause the muscles to immediately relax in response, almost like a reflex.
- Deformity: As the inside or outside of the knee wears down, the knee often collapses and a deformity is noted. The most common deformity is a patient’s knee falling into several degrees of varus (bow-legged deformity). Otherwise, patients see their knees fall into several degrees of valgus (knock-kneed deformity). Lastly, when a patient’s knee cannot be straightened passively or actively, they have a flexion contracture deformity.
There are many options for people with knee osteoarthritis. Preventative measures can be taken if detected sooner. If you experience any of these symptoms, make an appointment with an orthopedic physician to get evaluated and to learn more about your options.
About the Author
Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein is an orthopaedic surgeon on staff at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. He specializes in adult hip and knee reconstruction. He is one of the few surgeons in the area fellowship trained in both anterior and posterior approach total hip replacement. In addition to primary joint replacement, he focuses on complex revision surgery, addressing complications such as instability, implant loosening, metallosis, periprosthetic infection, periprosthetic fractures, and extensor mechanism disruptions.