How Do I Know If My Knee Pain Is Arthritis?
The knee is one of the most important, complex, and, at times, problematic joints in the body. It’s important because it supports our ability to walk, run, jump, crouch, and perform other movements. Additionally, it supports and stabilizes our body weight while we perform these movements.
The complexity of the knee joint makes it extremely vulnerable to injury, damage and pain. Knee pain is a common complaint from people of all ages, especially athletes and people who lead active lifestyles.
But how do you know when your knee problems and pain are caused by a knee injury or arthritis? Keep reading to learn more about arthritis of the knee and the early signs and symptoms to watch out for.
What Causes Knee Pain?
The knee is a complex hinge joint supported and protected by ligaments, tendons and cartilage making it prone to several types of injuries. Overuse from exercise, sports, and daily life, as well as traumatic accidents, can all injure cartilage inside the knee and be the beginning of arthritis. Common knee problems include:
- Ligament tears (ACL, PCL, and MCL ligaments)
- Meniscus cartilage tears
- Kneecap injuries
All of the injuries listed above can cause significant knee pain, and one, or a combination of multiple injuries, can increase the risk for developing osteoarthritis, the leading cause for knee replacement surgery.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and is a degenerative or “wear and tear” condition of the cartilage at the ends of the bones. As cartilage erodes and wears away, pain, swelling and inflammation develop in the joint. Over time, patients progress to “bone on bone” with no cartilage left, leaving the bones to rub painfully against each other.
Arthritis causes progressive damage to the knee joint, and can cause bowing or alignment changes. Early non-surgical care and treatment can help in some cases, but for others arthritis will continue to damage the joint until walking, climbing stairs and performing daily activities becomes difficult. If you’re experiencing persistent knee pain, stiffness and loss of functional movement, don’t chalk the symptoms up to a normal part of aging — call your doctor and make an appointment for an examination.
Signs and Symptoms of Knee Arthritis
Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial to managing your condition and preserving function in your knee.
Knee pain that is persisting longer than a few weeks or months without a known injury deserves medical attention. If the pain is due to arthritis, Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial to managing your condition and preserving function in your knee.
Here are some other signs that arthritis may be causing your pain:
- Pain and swelling
- Difficulty bending or straightening the knee
- Weakness or “giving out” feeling during movement
- Locking, clicking, snapping or grinding noises during movement
Knee stiffness, pain and swelling that is worse first thing in the morning and after periods of inactivity is usually a primary indicator of arthritis. Symptoms of arthritis typically start slowly and progress over time.
While there’s no cure for arthritis, pain and symptoms can be managed with conservative treatments.
Lifestyle changes like losing weight and exercising regularly.
Proper regular exercise and even formal physical therapy is a great way to maintain joint and muscle strength, flexibility and range of motion. Low impact forms of exercise like swimming, walking, bicycling, yoga and using an elliptical, offer the same great health benefits without being so hard on your joints.
Being overweight places more stress and pressure on weight-bearing joints like the knee. Dietary changes for some can make a big difference like healthy keto diets, portion control diet plans, and even intermittent fasting. 10 pounds of weight lost decreases forces across the knee by 40 pounds while walking.
Your doctor may prescribe the following treatments to help control pain, reduce inflammation and preserve function in your joint, or simply to “buy you time” to get ready for eventual surgery. (Some insurances do not cover some of these services)
- Pain relieving and anti-inflammatory medications: Ibuprofen, Naproxen etc.
- Corticosteroid injections
- Viscosupplementation: Lubrication shots, aka “Gel” shots
- Amniotic fluid injections: packed with the growth factors which, many believe to be the magic of stem cells, are now approved by Medicare
Will I Need Surgery?
Unfortunately, even with conservative care and treatment, arthritis is progressive, and continues to cause damage and degeneration to the knee joint and cartilage. Conservative treatment may be ineffective for your pain and symptoms. Consider surgery if you have pain that:
- Affects your ability to walk, climb stairs
- Affects your ability to fall asleep, remain asleep or get back to sleep after waking
- Affects your mental health and causes depression or anxiety
- Limits your ability to engage in simple forms of exercise to maintain your general health
- Persists even when you are at rest
Additionally, consider surgery if you have instability of the knee that has begun to place you at risk of falling.
Advanced joint damage eventually requires replacement of the surface of the joint that is damaged with a partial or, more frequently, a total knee replacement. During the procedure, the surface of the damaged portion of the joint is removed and replaced with a new surface. The ligaments that surround the knee are balanced, but not disturbed or replaced so that we can properly align the knee and replace only the worn bony surface of the joint. Some have started to use the term knee resurfacing over total knee replacement.
In years past, more invasive joint replacement surgeries required hospitalization, larger incisions, post-operative in-patient rehabilitation for weeks or even home physical therapy. The recovery period was 3 months or longer and post-surgery complications from stiffness, blood clots, blood loss, infections of numerous kinds were all more frequent.
Today, the Outpatient Joint Replacement Center of America (OJRCA) is successfully performing outpatient, minimally invasive partial and total knee replacement surgeries on thousands of patients. Our personally designed, unique pain protocols are tailored to each individual patient to block and limit post-operative pain and get our patients back on their feet within about 2 hours of surgery completion. Most of our patients begin outpatient rehab/therapy the next day at a physical therapy center near their home and are back to their normal activities within a several days to 2 weeks.
Outpatient surgery for knee replacement has been proven to be safer regarding complications, hospital and emergency department admissions, and require less recovery time. We have found the key to preventing most of the pain which speeds recovery and makes patient satisfaction much higher, all the while saving our healthcare system thousands of dollars per case.
Call OJRCA to Learn About Knee Replacement Surgery.
If you’re suffering from significant knee pain and debility from arthritis or another knee joint arthritis or traumatic condition, and conservative measures aren’t effective to manage your symptoms, please call OJRCA. Our experienced team is here to sit down with you, provide a full evaluation, and discuss treatment options with you.