Are you experiencing painful, stiff, swollen and/or deformed joints? Do your muscles feel weak or sore? Does sitting for more than a few minutes make you stiffen up afterwards? Are you constantly tired which makes you feel old for your age? Do you find yourself taking painkillers (e.g., paracetamol and ibuprofen) on a regular basis?
If you answered yes to these questions, then chances are you have arthritis. Arthritis is a condition that is characterized mainly by inflammation in one or more joints. Arthritis takes place when cartilage—the natural cushioning between the joints—degenerates. When cartilage degenerates, the joints rub more closely against one another, resulting in pain, swelling, stiffness and fatigue.
Arthritis is an extremely debilitating disorder. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (as cited in Clough, 2006), 8 million people are rendered disabled by the said condition. Each year, arthritis results in 750,000 hospitalizations and 9,500 deaths. It also makes the US economy lose $51 billion in medical costs and $86 billion in total costs annually.
Types of Arthritis
There are three common types of arthritis but for this guide we will be focusing on arthritis knee: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. They will be further discussed below:
Osteoarthritis affects the fingers, spine, hips, knees, shoulders, elbows, wrists and ankles. It occurs as a result of the gradual degeneration of the joints in the said body parts. The usual causes of osteoarthritis are aging, obesity and joint damage (e.g. from an injury or repetitive movement).
The symptoms of osteoarthritis are joint pain, swelling, numbness and tingling, as well as limited flexibility and a grinding sensation when moving the affected joint. Osteoarthritis is treated by rest, rehabilitation, exercises, knee braces (like the knee brace pictured to the left) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Interested in learning more about knee braces perfect for your knee condition? Click the Knee Brace Guide for information.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease (a condition that takes place when the immune system attacks the body’s healthy cells). It affects the fingers, spine, hips, knees, shoulders, elbows, wrists and ankles. The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are joint pain and tightness, limited joint motion, weight loss, fever and overall weakness. Rheumatoid arthritis is treated by rest, medication, exercises, lifestyle changes (e.g. to improve sleep) and/or surgery.
Fibromyalgia affects muscles, ligaments, tendons and soft tissues. It usually strikes women between the ages of 35 and 60. Experts believe that fibromyalgia is caused by various physical and emotional stressors (e.g., illness or trauma). The symptoms of fibromyalgia are muscle pain and stiffness (especially in the morning), unexplained fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, anxiety, headaches and tenderness on certain parts of the body. Fibromyalgia is treated by medication, exercise, lifestyle changes and alternative therapies (e.g., acupuncture and hypnosis).
What Causes Arthritis Knee?
Arthritis knee is caused by various factors. These factors include the following:
- Genetics – Experts believe that there are some people who are genetically predisposed to rheumatoid arthritis. But the extent to which genetics contribute to arthritis knee remains unknown.
- Age – Cartilage loses its elasticity and its ability to repair itself over time. This explains why older people are more susceptible to arthritis knee than younger people.
- Weight – The amount of body weight a joint supports partially contributes to joint damage. It would therefore be logical to conclude that excess body weight can lead to arthritis knee.
- Prior Injury – Certain injuries can damage the normally smooth joint surface. In a tibial plateau fracture, for instance, the broken area of bone enters the cartilage of the knee joint. The patient, as a result, is left with a weaker knee joint cartilage, making him more prone to arthritis knee in the future.
- Occupational Hazards – Some jobs can render workers more susceptible to arthritis. Jobs that involve a lot of kneeling (e.g., gardening, housecleaning and carpet laying) can make a worker more prone to knee injuries, which, in turn, can increase his risk of developing arthritis knee.
- Some Sports – Sports, particularly those that involve a lot of repetitive and/or sudden twisting movements (e.g., running, basketball and football), can make an athlete more prone to knee injuries, which, in turn, can increase his or her risk of developing arthritis knee.
- Illness or Infection – Certain medical conditions (e.g., gout and septic joint) can weaken the knee joint cartilage. This outcome, in turn, can put a person as a greater risk of developing arthritis knee.
Find more knee arthritis basics in our Arthritis Knee Pain article!
What Are the Symptoms of Arthritis Knee?
How do you know if you have arthritis knee? You may have arthritis knee if you experience the following symptoms:
- Joint pain, tenderness and stiffness.
- Inflammation in and around the joints.
- Restricted movement of the joints.
- Warmth and redness of the skin over the affected joint.
- Weakness and muscle wasting.
If you experience these symptoms, then you probably have arthritis knee. See a doctor immediately if:
- The pain and stiffness occur suddenly, whether from an injury or an unknown cause.
- Your pain is accompanied by fever.
- The pain develops quickly and is associated with redness and extreme tenderness of the joint.
- You notice pain and stiffness in your arms, legs, or back after sitting for short periods or after a night’s sleep.
How Is Arthritis Knee Diagnosed?
So you finally decided to set an appointment with your doctor to find out if you have arthritis knee. But how exactly will your doctor determine if you have it? Below are the ways doctors diagnose arthritis knee:
- Physical exam – Your doctor will check your joints for swelling, redness and warmth. He will likewise check how well you can move your joints.
- Laboratory tests – Your doctor will take samples of your blood, urine and/or joint fluid and have them analyzed for signs of inflammation (e.g., blood abnormalities and presence of certain antibodies).
- Imaging – Imaging tests make pictures of your joints. By doing so, they help your doctor accurately determine the extent of damage in your bones, muscles, joints and cartilages. Below are some examples of imaging tests:
- X-rays – An x-ray machine uses low levels of radiation to make visual images of your bones. X-ray images can show injuries like cartilage loss, bone damage and bone spurs. X-ray images can also be used to monitor the progress of arthritis knee.
- Computerized tomography scan (CT scan) – A CT scan creates cross-sectional views of internal systems by taking x-ray images from various angles and combining the information present in these images. Unlike an x-ray, which makes only visual images of bones, a CT scan can make images of bones and surrounding soft tissues.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – An MRI combines radio waves and a strong magnetic wave to come up with cross-sectional views of internal systems. An MRI can produce extremely detailed images of soft tissues such as cartilage, tendons and ligaments.
- Ultrasound – An ultrasound device uses high-frequency sound waves to make visual images of soft tissues, cartilage and fluid-containing structures (e.g., bursae). An ultrasound device is likewise used to guide needle placement for joint aspirations and injections.
- Arthroscopy – In this procedure, your doctor will make a small incision near your joint and insert an arthroscope through that incision. The arthroscope will then transmit images of your joint to a video screen.
Perhaps it’s not arthritis? See our Knee Pain Diagnosis for an easy 10-step system for diagnosing knee conditions.
Treatments for Arthritis Knee
Standard treatments for arthritis knee focuses on two goals—alleviating symptoms and improving joint function. Patients usually try various treatments or combinations of treatments before finding out what works best for them.
- Medications – Drugs used to treat arthritis knee are composed mainly of pain relievers. Below are some examples:
- Analgesics – Analgesics are used to relieve pain. Analgesics, however, do not stop inflammation. Examples of analgesics include Acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol), Tramadol (e.g., Ultram and Ryzolt) and narcotics containing Oxycodone (e.g., Percocet and Oxycontin) or Hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin and Lortab).
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – NSAIDs alleviate pain by relieving inflammation. NSAIDs come in different forms (e.g., pills, capsules, creams and gels). Some NSAIDs are available over-the-counter, while other NSAIDs can only be availed with a doctor’s prescription. Examples of over-the-counter NSAIDs include ibuprofen (e.g., Advil and Motrin IB) and naproxen (e.g., Aleve). Oral NSAIDs can cause stomach irritation or increase your heart attack or stroke risk.
- Counterirritants – Counterirritants are creams and ointments that contain warming agents like menthol or capsaicin. When applied on the skin over the affected joint, counterirritants obstruct the transmission of pain signals from the affected joint, relieving pain in the process.
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) – DMARDs are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. It treats the latter by slowing down the immune system’s attack on the joints, if not stopping it completely. Methotrexate (e.g., Trexall) and Hydroxychloroquine (e.g., Plaquenil) are examples of DMARDs.
- Biologics – Biologics are often used simultaneously with DMARDs. Biologics are genetically-engineered drugs that either block the action of a specific type of immune cell (e.g., T-cell or B-cell lymphocytes) or block proteins in the immune system (e.g., interleukin-1, interleukin-6, or tumor necrosis factor-alpha). Etanercept (e.g., Enbrel) and Infliximab (e.g., Remicade) are examples of biologics.
- Corticosteroids – Corticosteroids are drugs that decrease inflammation and control the immune system. Patients can either take corticosteroids orally or have a doctor inject corticosteroids directly into the affected joint. Examples of corticosteroids include Prednisone and Cortisone.
- Physical therapy – Physical therapy is used to treat some forms of arthritis. Braces, casts and splints can be used to immobilize the affected area, allowing it to rest in the process. Certain exercises can help improve joint range of motion, as well as strengthen joint muscles.
- Surgery – Surgery is used to treat severe cases of arthritis knee. Below are examples of surgical arthritis knee treatments:
- Joint replacement – This procedure removes a damaged joint (usually a hip or a knee) and replaces it with an artificial one.
- Joint fusion – This procedure relieved arthritis knee pain by merging the two bones of a joint until they fuse into one rigid unit. Joint fusion surgery is performed on smaller joints, such as those in the wrist, ankle and fingers.
Prevention of Arthritis Knee
As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. While knowing how to treat and manage arthritic knee is good, it would still be better if it were prevented from happening in the first place. Treating and managing arthritis knee, after all, translates to time and money spent on hospital stays, doctor’s visits, drugs and rehabilitation. Preventing arthritis knee, on the other hand, is not only easier, but will also cost little or nothing at all.
Below are some tips on how to prevent arthritis knee:
- Always wear protective gear when playing sports – Doing so will prevent joint injuries that can later lead to arthritis knee.
- Drink plenty of water – Cartilage is made up of 70% water. Drinking at least 6-8 glasses of water every day will prevent its deterioration.
- Avoid smoking and moderate coffee, tea, soda and alcohol intake – Studies show that smoking increases your risk of developing arthritis and other bone disorders (e.g., osteoporosis). Coffee, tea, soda and alcohol are diuretics or substances that promote urine production. These beverages will therefore make your body expel water before it can fully hydrate your body.
- Eat foods rich in calcium and Vitamin D – Calcium helps keep your bones and joints strong and healthy, while Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium effectively. Good sources of calcium include dairy products (e.g., milk, cheese and yogurt), broccoli, salmon, spinach, black beans, peanuts, almonds, tofu, sardines and sesame seeds. Good sources of Vitamin D include sunlight, salmon, tuna, eggs and beef. Consult your doctor before taking any dietary supplements—improper use of dietary supplements can cause health problems.
- Keep a healthy weight – Excess body weight can hasten joint deterioration.
- Exercise regularly – Exercising for at least 30 minutes a day will not only help you lose weight; it will likewise strengthen your bones, muscles and joints.
- Treat injuries promptly – Repetitive injuries (e.g., ankle sprains) can gradually weaken your cartilage and increase your risk of arthritis knee in the future. Follow your doctor’s instructions on treating injuries—never self-medicate.
- Reduce repetitive motions in your everyday activities – Repetitive motions (e.g. in work and sports) can lead to micro-injuries in your joint tissues, which, in turn, can lead to arthritis knee in the future.
Exercises for People with Arthritis Knee
As mentioned earlier, exercise is a good way to prevent and treat arthritis. Exercise prevents arthritis knee by reducing body weight and strengthening the bones, muscles and joints. Exercise also treats arthritis knee by improving joint range of motion and strengthening joint muscles.
Below are some examples of exercises for people with arthritis knee:
- Lay flat on your back and slowly draw one knee into your chest. Hold for 8 to 10 seconds, then return to starting position.
- Repeat 3 to 6 times, then switch legs.
- Place your forearm flat against a wall. Keep your arm at a 90-degree angle and gently lean forward until you feel a stretch through the upper portion of your shoulder and chest.
- Hold for 8 to 10 seconds, then return to starting position.
- Repeat 3 to 6 times on each forearm.
Row with Resistance Band
- Wrap a resistance band around a sturdy object in front of you.
- Hold the ends of the band in each hand with your arms straight out in front of you, palms facing each other. Make sure the band is tight.
- Contract your upper back muscles and pull the band toward you, bending your elbows, keeping your shoulders relaxed.
- Slowly return to starting position.
- Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Chest Press with Resistance Band
- Wrap a resistance band around a stable object behind you.
- Hold the ends of the band taut in each hand, palms down, with the band on top of your arms.
- Squeeze your chest and press your arms forward at shoulder level.
- Bring your arms to full extension, taking not to lock your elbow joints. Return to starting position.
- Repeat 10 to 15 times.
- Place a step board or a low platform in front of you (if your home has a stairs, use the bottom step).
- Stand about 12 to 24 inches from the board, then step up with your right foot and lift your left knee up slowly. Return to start position.
- Repeat 10 to 15 times on each side.
For even more info we highly recommend reading our 10 tips for happy living with knee arthritis! You can also find dozens of knee strengthening exercises here which will help you with every knee injury or condition.
Natural Remedies for Arthritis Knee
Given the large number of arthritis sufferers, it is no longer surprising that the market is swamped with arthritis “cures”. Most of these “cures”—from shark cartilage to copper bracelets—claim to be “natural,” “safe,” “painless” and “effective.” Fortunately, there are a number of natural arthritis remedies that are truly safe and effective. Below are some examples:
- Acupuncture – Studies show that acupuncture helps relieve the pain brought about by arthritis.
- Boswellia – For thousands of years, folk healers have been using Boswellia as a natural anti-inflammatory. Modern scientific research discovered that the herb actually has acids that can stop the formation of Leukotrienes (the immune cells that trigger inflammation).
- Cherries – Cherries are rich sources of magnesium (a natural painkiller) and potassium (a natural diuretic). Eating 6-8 cherries per day can help relieve pain.
- Ginger – Ginger has natural analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Just add it to soups, salads, stews, etc.
- Dandelion leaves – Fresh young dandelion leaves are rich sources of Vitamins A and C—vitamins that help repair damaged tissues. To fully maximize the healing properties of dandelion leaves, eat them raw in salads.
Just a tip—natural remedies should not be used as substitutes for a doctor’s advice and prescriptions. Always consult with your doctor first before trying out any herbal remedy or supplement.
- Clough, J.D. (2006). Arthritis: A Cleveland Clinic Guide. Cleveland, Ohio: Cleveland Clinic Press.
- Cluett, J. (2013, April 8). What Causes Arthritis? About.com. Retrieved August 19, 2013, from http://orthopedics.about.com/od/arthritis/f/arthritiscauses.htm
- Emrich, L. (2010, April 19). Biologic Medications for RA: The Big Picture. Health Central. Retrieved August 21, 2013, from http://www.healthcentral.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/c/72218/107215/big/
- Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2013, July 13). Arthritis. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved August 20, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/arthritis/DS01122
- National Health Service. (2012, April 11). Arthritis. NHS Choices. Retrieved August 19, 2013, from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Arthritis/Pages/Introduction.aspx
- Nichols, N. (2013). Comparing 3 Common Arthritic Conditions. SparkPeople. Retrieved August 19, 2013, from http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/fitness_articles.asp?id=884
- Sweetman, L. (2011, February 14). How to Treat Your Arthritis Naturally at Home. Disabled World. Retrieved August 22, 2013, from http://www.disabled-world.com/medical/alternative/homeremedies/treating-arthritis-remedy.php
- WebMD, LLC. (2013). Understanding Arthritis—Symptoms. WebMD. Retrieved August 19, 2013, from http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/guide/understanding-arthritis-symptoms
- Whitley, S. (2010, October 5). Top 10 Exercises for Women with Rheumatoid Arthritis. SheKnows Health & Wellness. Retrieved August 22, 2013, from http://www.sheknows.com/health-and-wellness/articles/818863/Top-10-Exercises-for-women-with-rheumatoid-arthritis
- WikiHow. (n.d.). How to Prevent Arthritis. Retrieved August 21, 2013, from http://www.wikihow.com/Prevent-Arthritis
Living with knee arthritis can be difficult but most of all inconvenient. Life doesn’t stop with arthritis: there are many treatments and exercises available to alleviate your condition.
Be sure to go through our simple Knee Diagnosis steps to learn if arthritis is affecting you, or learn if perhaps there is some other underlying cause or condition you may be suffering from.
Our comprehensive article about Knee Strengthening Exercises or many different Knee Exercises articles can help you live with arthritis knee more easily. You can and should also consider wearing a knee brace to help alleviate pain or discomfort.