Knee Arthritis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment Options

Knee arthritis is a painful disease that causes severe pain, and it is more common in middle-aged and elderly people. There are many types of arthritis in the knee, the most common of which is osteoarthritis, which can occur on either or both sides of the new knee. Knee pain, swelling, stiffness, inability to bend normally, and immobility are common symptoms of knee arthritis. This article will provide you with comprehensive knee arthritis causes, symptoms, and solutions for knee pain.

1. What is knee arthritis?

Knee arthritis is a common joint disease that causes the cartilage of the knee joint to gradually wear away, causing knee pain, swelling, and impaired knee joint function. The main symptoms of knee arthritis usually include persistent pain in the knee, obvious stiffness in the knee joint, and reduced range of joint motion. These knee symptoms can be caused by a variety of factors, including aging, overuse of the knee, knee injury, genetics, or other health conditions.

2. What is the knee joint?

The knee joint is a key joint in the human body that connects the thigh bone (femur) and lower leg bones (tibia and fibula). The knee joint is made up of three bones: the femur (on the thighbone), the tibia (on the front of the lower leg), and the fibula (also on the lower leg, but on the side of the tibia). These bones are covered with articular cartilage to reduce friction and provide a smooth surface during movement.

Knee arthritis and knee composition diagram

In addition, the knee joint includes ligaments, bursae, and muscles that work together to maintain the joint’s stability and range of motion. One of the most commonly damaged joints in the body, the knee joint is susceptible to trauma, wear and inflammation and therefore requires special attention and care.

3. What are the common knee arthritis?

According to statistics from the World Health Organization, there are currently more than 100 known classifications of knee arthritis. To help you understand knee arthritis, we have listed the most common types of knee arthritis below:

  • Osteoarthritis: This is the most common type of knee arthritis and usually develops with age. It is caused by the gradual wear and damage of joint cartilage, causing friction between bones. This type of knee arthritis is often called osteoarthritis or degenerative arthritis.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: This is an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack joint tissue, including the knee joints. This type of arthritis often causes pain, swelling, and impaired joint function.
  • Traumatic arthritis: This type of knee arthritis usually results from joint injury or severe trauma, such as a fracture, meniscus injury, or repetitive stress injury. Traumatic arthritis may cause symptoms years or decades after the injury.
  • Synovial inflammatory arthritis: The synovium, the tissue within joints, can be affected by inflammation, leading to synovial inflammatory arthritis. This type of arthritis often causes swelling and pain in the joints.
  • Gouty Arthritis: Gout is a metabolic disease in which elevated levels of uric acid in the body lead to the deposition of uric acid crystals in the joints, triggering gouty arthritis. The knee joint is one of the most commonly affected areas.

4. Development stages of knee arthritis

The development of knee arthritis can usually be divided into several stages, which reflect the progression and severity of the disease. The following are the general stages of development of knee arthritis:

Early stage (mild):
In the early stages, patients may experience mild discomfort and pain, usually after moving the joint or while bearing weight. This may be related to slight wear and tear on the articular cartilage, but has not yet caused obvious symptoms.

Intermediate stage (moderate):
Mid-stage knee arthritis is characterized by increased pain and discomfort, and joint swelling may be more pronounced. The range of motion of the joints may be limited, affecting activities of daily living, such as going up and down stairs, bending over, etc.

Late stage (severe):
Advanced knee arthritis usually presents with severe pain, swelling, and significant loss of function. The articular cartilage may have been severely worn or damaged, causing direct contact and friction of the bones. This can lead to joint deformations such as the formation of bone spurs.

Severe stage (end stage):
In the late stages of knee OA, pain and loss of function can be severe, seriously affecting the patient’s quality of life. This often requires more invasive treatment options, such as knee replacement surgery.

It’s important to note that the rate at which knee arthritis develops varies from individual to individual; some people may experience noticeable symptoms in the early stages, while others may not feel significant pain until many years later. Early intervention and appropriate treatment can help slow disease progression and improve quality of life. If knee arthritis is suspected, it is best to consult a doctor for an evaluation and treatment plan.

5. What are the causes of knee arthritis?

Common causes of knee disease can be a combination of several factors. Here are some potential causes of common knee problems:

The age factor: As we age, the cartilage in the knee gradually wears down and degenerates. This is known as osteoarthritis and is one of the most common knee problems.

Trauma and Injuries: Joint injuries such as fractures, meniscus tears, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, and more can cause knee pain and damage.

Overuse: Chronic overuse or repetitive stress, such as frequent bending, jumping, running, etc., can lead to knee damage and inflammation.

Genetic factors: Genetic factors may make some people more likely to develop knee problems, such as people with a family history of arthritis.

Obesity: Being overweight puts more strain on the knee joints, causing the cartilage to wear down more quickly, so obesity is an important risk factor for knee disease.

Inflammatory diseases: Rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases can cause knee arthritis as the immune system attacks joint tissue.

Lifestyle and Posture: Wrong posture, prolonged sitting, inappropriate shoes and working conditions can also lead to knee problems.

Metabolic diseases: Some metabolic diseases, such as gout, can cause knee pain and swelling.

Sports Injuries: Knee injuries can occur as a result of falls, collisions or improper landings during sports.

Other factors: Rare diseases such as osteoporosis, infections, and tumors can also affect knee health.

6. What is the diagnosis process of knee arthritis?

Symptoms and medical history: The doctor will start by asking about the patient’s symptoms and medical history. This includes a description of symptoms such as joint pain, swelling, and limitation of motion, as well as the duration and severity of the pain. Doctors may also ask about people’s lifestyle, occupation, athletic activity, and family medical history.

Physical examination: The doctor will perform a physical examination of the patient’s knee joint, which includes observing the appearance of the joint, feeling the joint to see if it is swollen or warm, and assessing the stability and range of motion of the joint.

Imaging tests: Imaging tests are one of the important tools in the diagnosis of knee arthritis, including:
  • X-rays: X-rays can show the condition of bones and cartilage and help doctors diagnose osteoarthritis.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging):  An MRI can provide more detailed images, including of soft tissue and joint cartilage. This can be helpful in diagnosing other types of knee problems.

Laboratory tests: Although there are no specific blood tests that can be used to diagnose knee arthritis, some laboratory tests can be used to rule out other conditions, such as rheumatoid factor tests and C-reactive protein tests.

Joint effusion sampling: If there are signs of joint effusion (a buildup of fluid in the joint), your doctor may take a small sample of the fluid for laboratory testing to determine whether a joint infection or other problem is present.

Other tests: In some cases, a doctor may order other special tests, such as a bone scan or arthroscopy, to help confirm the diagnosis.

7. What are the common treatment options for knee arthritis?

Non-surgical treatment

  • a. Medication: Over-the-counter medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used to relieve pain and reduce arthritis inflammation. Medications prescribed by your doctor, such as analgesics, disease-modifying medications, or anti-gout medications, may be considered based on the condition.
  • b. Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can create a custom exercise program for knee arthritis to strengthen muscles, improve joint stability, and improve joint range of motion.
  • c. Weight management: For obese patients, losing weight can reduce the burden on the knee joint and reduce pain.
  • d. Assistive devices: The use of a walker, crutches, or knee brace can help take pressure off the knee joint and provide support.

Medical treatement

  • a. Joint injection: Injection of hormone drugs or hyaluronic acid (joint fluid substitute) into the joint can reduce pain and inflammation.

Surgical treatment

  • a. Knee replacement surgery: For patients with advanced knee arthritis that seriously affects their quality of life, knee replacement surgery may be the most effective treatment option. During surgery, doctors remove the damaged portion of the joint and replace it with an artificial joint.
  • b. Arthroscopic surgery: Arthroscopic surgery can be used to repair damaged soft tissues, such as menisci or ligaments, or to remove inflammation and bone spurs in joints.
  • c. Alignment surgery: Alignment surgery can be used to adjust the bone structure to reduce instability and pain in the knee joint.
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