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Osteoarthritis of the Knee

Osteoarthritis of the Knee - Why does this happen?

The knee is a complex hinge joint.  The convex surfaces of the femur sit on the concave surfaces of the tibia.  The joint surfaces are covered with cartilage and synovial fluid which help absorb shock on weight bearing and allow movement in the joint by reducing friction when under pressure.


Osteoarthritis of the Knee is a degenerative condition which affects the surface of the bones in the knee joint.  The cartilage wears and there is a loss of synovial fluid.  This causes the soft bone underneath to become roughened from the pressure of weight bearing.  Bony spurs (osteophytes) grow around the joint causing the joint space to narrow. On weight bearing the femur and tibia rub together causing pain, swelling and stiffness.

Osteoarthritis of the Knee is common as part of the ageing process and can occur from the age of 40+.   Repetitive weight bearing activities, previous injury and excess weight all contribute to developing Osteoarthritis of the Knee 
What are the symptoms?
  • Pain in the knee.
  • Pain is worse on exercise or weight bearing activities.
  • Pain is relieved after a period of rest.    
  • Stiffness in the knee, particularly in the morning and after rest.
  • Difficulty walking.
  • Poor range of knee movement.
  • Disturbed sleep as a result of the pain.


Diagnosing Osteorthritis of the Knee 

Your GP or Physiotherapist can usually diagnose Osteoarthritis of the Knee by simply by examining your knee and hearing where the pain is and how it started.


X-rays and other tests are not usually necessary.
What is the treatment?
Pain due to Osteoarthritis of the Knee will usually improve with some simple changes to activity and exercise. Try to avoid or reduce the activity which aggravates your pain. Stay active but balance rest with activity. 
Changing activities to ones which involve less weight bearing on the knee, such as swimming instead of running, are important to reduce the stress placed on the joint.  
Managing your weight is important as any extra weight places extra stress on the knee joint.
Painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications  -  These may be prescribed by your GP if the pain is costant.  This is a temporary measure to break the pain cycle, but can continue as required.
Exercise  -  Exercise is important to help regain full knee movement. Once the pain has settled it is important to strengthen the surrounding muscles and work on your balance to help prevent reoccurrence.  Click here for a list of exercises suitable for Osteoarthritis of the Knee.
Biomechanical Analysis  -   If there are significant mechanical problems insoles or specific trainers may improve your leg position and help avoid further injuries.  A biomechanical assessment by a Podiatrist or Physiotherapist will determine whether insoles or specific trainers would be of benefit.
Physiotherapy  -  If exercise alone does not improve symptoms then physiotherapy treatment may be required.  A physiotherapist can use specific treatments including, ultrasound, deep friction, massage, interferential, acupuncture or taping to help relieve pain and aid recovery. Click here for more information about Physiotherapy.
Hydrotherapy  -  Exercise in water is very helpful.   The buoyancy of the water allows you to work on movement and strength without placing stress on the knee.
Injections  -  In some cases your GP or Consultant may recommend an injection.  These can be used to reduce inflammation and pain when the symptoms are severe and constant.  This is not a 'cure' and it is important to follow the exercises and modify activities.  A 'Cortisone Injection' can help reduce inflammation in the tendon, whilst a 'PRP Injection' (Platelet Rich Plasma) can help to stimulate healing.
Surgery  -  This is not common for Osteoarthritis of the Knee.  In some cases when symptoms are persistent surgery may be considered.    
Remember an important part of treatment for Osteoarthritis of the Knee your home exercises and modifying activities.