What is osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee? (and, is it the same for everyone?)

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common joint disease that affects knees, hands, hips, and a few other areas where bones meet.1-3 More than a third of the people with OA suffer painful effects in one or both knees.2-4 In fact, OA of the knee is the most common form of OA,3,4 which makes a lot of sense when you consider all the body weight and pressure you force down on your knees with every step, stride, stretch, squat, staircase, sashay, samba, or golf swing.5

If you or someone you love has OA of the knee, you should know that it is a chronic (long lasting) disease that tends to get worse over time.2

In people who have OA of the knee, the cushioning tissue, or cartilage, in the knee joint slowly wears away and the thick fluid that helps lubricate the knee joint, called synovial fluid, becomes thinner and doesn’t work as well to protect the joint. As the breakdown of cartilage gets worse over time, knee pain and stiffness may become worse and more frequent. When cartilage loss is severe, the bones of your knee may grind together, leading to friction that causes the bone to wear down and, potentially, more knee pain and stiffness.3-4

It’s hard to predict how quickly or slowly your OA will progress.6 Your OA may advance more slowly than it does in other people, or vice versa. Also, you may feel more pain, or less, than another person who has the same degree of physical changes inside their knee.2,7 The good news is there are many over-the-counter treatments that your doctor can recommend and prescription medications to help alleviate your pain and improve symptoms.1,2
Learn more about your treatment options.


There are stages or grades of OA of the knee that help doctors identify how advanced the physical damage is inside the knee.8,9 Even with these stages as a guide, it is difficult for doctors to predict how much pain you will have at any specific stage of OA because every person is different. Someone with mild or moderate physical damage may experience a lot of pain, and someone with severe cartilage and bone loss may feel only a little pain. Learn more about the stages of OA of the knee.

article1_img2You should describe your pain to your doctor as accurately as possible. Be sure to also describe how the pain, stiffness, swelling, or other symptoms may be affecting your ability to perform during the life moments that are important to you and your family: discuss that wedding dance you refuse to miss, express your feelings about those special shoes you want to wear, help your doctor picture the moment you hang the family portrait above the mantel. It’s really important for your doctor to know what’s important to you.

Whatever you love to do, if you are diagnosed with OA of the knee, you and your doctor can determine the right treatment plan, based on the stage of OA and the severity of your knee symptoms, to help you stay focused on the things that matter most.

References: 1. Arthritis of the knee. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00212. Reviewed June 2014. Accessed October 10, 2016. 2. Srikulmontree T. Osteoarthritis. American College of Rheumatology website. http://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Osteoarthritis/. Reviewed May 2015. Accessed October 10, 2016. 3. The basics of osteoarthritis. WebMD website. http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/guide
/osteoarthritis-basics#1. Reviewed May 10, 2015. Accessed October 10, 2016. 4. Parmet S, Lynm C, Glass RM. JAMA patient page. Osteoarthritis of the knee. JAMA. 2003;289(8):1068. 5. Osteoarthritis of the knee (degenerative arthritis of the knee). WebMD website. http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/guide/ostearthritis-of-the-knee-degenerative-arthritis-of-the-knee#1. Reviewed May 24, 2014. Accessed October 11, 2016. 6. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Handout on Health: Osteoarthritis. NIH Publication 15-4617. http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/osteoarthritis/. Published April 2015. Accessed October 11, 2016. 7. Wieland HA, Michaelis M, Kirschbaum BJ, Rudolphi KA. Osteoarthritis—an untreatable disease? Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2005;4(4):331-344. 8. Braun HJ, Gold GE. Diagnosis of osteoarthritis: imaging. Bone. 2012;51(2):278-288. 9. Kellgren JH, Lawrence JS. Radiological assessment of osteo-arthrosis. Ann Rheum Dis. 1957;16(4):494-502.

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