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Knee Arthritis

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Dear Dr. Levister: I am recovering from a sports knee injury. What are the chances I will develop knee arthritis? H.G.

Dear H.G.: Your knee is the largest joint in your body and one of the most complex. It is also vital to movement. Because you use it so much, it is vulnerable to injury.

Because it is made up of so many parts, many different things can go wrong.

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of knee arthritis. Also called wear-and-tear arthritis or degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis is characterized by progressive wearing away of the cartilage of the joint. As the protective cartilage is worn away by knee arthritis, bare bone is exposed within the joint.

Knee arthritis typically affects patients over 50 years of age. It is more common in patients who are overweight, and weight loss tends to reduce the symptoms associated with knee arthritis. There is also a genetic predisposition to this condition, meaning knee arthritis tends to run in families. Other factors that can contribute to developing knee arthritis include trauma to the knee, meniscus tears or ligament damage, and fractures to the bone around the joint.

Knee arthritis symptoms tend to progress as the condition worsens. What is interesting about knee arthritis is that symptoms do not always progress steadily with time. Often patients report good months and bad months, or symptoms that fluctuate with the weather. This is important to understand because comparing the symptoms of arthritis on one particular day may not accurately represent the overall progression of the condition.

The most common symptoms of knee arthritis are: Pain with activities, limited range of motion, stiffness of the knee, swelling of the joint, tenderness along the joint, a feeling the joint may "give out", deformity of the joint (knock-knees or bow-legs).

Evaluation of a patient with knee arthritis should begin with a physical examination and X-rays. These can serve as a baseline to evaluate later examinations and determine progression of the condition.

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