10 Knee Osteoarthritis Symptoms And How To Treat Them

Written By on March 22, 2022 — Medically Reviewed By Kristopher Ceniza

Written by on — Medically Reviewed By: Kristopher Cenzia

There’s a very high chance you have knee degeneration if you feel 6 distinct knee osteoarthritis symptoms. No, it’s not only about knee pain, morning stiffness, or crepitus. (1)

Yet, the truth is that knee OA symptoms are as diverse as the people suffering from it. So, apart from those main symptoms, you’ll learn about other 4 that may come with this condition.

Knowing the symptoms and why they happen will help you choose the best treatment. That way, you’ll recover as fast as possible.

Now, this is what we’ll discuss. Tap on any of the topics to go straight to that section:

The 6 main symptoms of knee osteoarthritis

Research suggests that if these 6 symptoms are present, there’s a 99% chance of having knee osteoarthritis. This is particularly true for people over 45 years old.



These red-flag symptoms are (1):

1) Gradual knee joint pain

The pain from knee osteoarthritis tends to have a gradual onset, rather than happening from one day to the next. (2)

It often gets worse with movement – like climbing stairs, squatting, or walking. Yet, it can also be present at rest, mostly while sitting or standing for long periods.

As the cartilage deterioration advances, you could have intense pain at night, too. However, the type of pain will vary from person to person. (3)

It could feel like a dull, intermittent pain around your whole knee joint throughout the day. Or a sharp, severe pain that appears in specific movements.

Learn more: Reasons why knee osteoarthritis pain worsens at night.

2) Joint stiffness for less than 30 minutes

This is a feeling of tightness on your knee that often limits your range of motion. Some people may have mild swelling as well. (3)

For people with osteoarthritis of the knee, this stiffness tends to be present after periods of inactivity, like after sleeping. It goes away in half an hour or less, though.

However, if you’ve had +30 minutes of morning stiffness for a few days in a row, it might not be knee osteoarthritis. Please visit your doctor to find out what’s going on.

3) Impaired quality of life

People with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis may have problems performing their daily activities. This is often a direct consequence of intense knee pain and limited range of motion.

The daily life of a knee OA patient can get extremely difficult, sometimes to the point where no treatments can relieve pain.

This can trigger or exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression in patients with this chronic disease, making their daily lives even more difficult. (4)

4) A grating sensation

This is called “crepitus.” It’s that crunching feeling some of us get when we bend or straighten our knees.

Now, most knees make some kind of noise. If it’s pain-free and doesn’t have other symptoms associated with it, there’s likely nothing to worry about.

But, if it’s painful and/or happens with any of the other symptoms mentioned in this article, it could be a symptom of osteoarthritis of the knee.

Related: Why do my knees crack?

5) Limited range of motion

People with knee osteoarthritis might not be able to bend or straighten their knees like they used to. This could be due to pain, stiffness, muscle weakness, and/or other factors.

This can look like not being able to squat anymore or sit on your heels while kneeling. And if this restriction is painless, you may be tempted to overlook it. But it will likely get worse with time.

If that sounds like you, please go to a physical therapist in your area. He/she will help you figure out what’s going on and give you strategies to improve mobility.

6) X-rays show bone spurs

Image of a knee joint with osteoarthritis showing exposed bone, decreased joint space, and osteophytes

Bone spurs are bony lumps that grow around damaged joints. They are actually called “osteophytes.” You can’t know you have them unless you get an X-ray or an MRI.

Most don’t cause symptoms by themselves, according to Mayo Clinic. However, their presence is a sign that the knee joint has some damage, probably due to wear and tear.

The issue with bone spurs is that they can predict osteoarthritis knee pain. They’re a better indicator of this than how much joint space you have left. (3)

So, if your imaging tests show knee osteophytes but you don’t have other symptoms, focus on reducing your risk factors. This could delay the progression of the condition.

Related: Risk factors for knee osteoarthritis (diagnosis)

4 Other symptoms of knee osteoarthritis

These symptoms may also be present, along with the ones mentioned above:

7) Mild to severe knee inflammation

The “-itis” in “osteoarthritis” means inflammation. However, some people have visible swelling around their knees, while others don’t.

There are several ways to reduce swelling at home. Now, if you have inflammation on more than one joint at the same time, please visit your doctor to check if you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

RA is one of the most common musculoskeletal and skin diseases in the world.

But while knee OA is caused by wear and tear, RA is a type of knee arthritis that’s caused by problems with the immune system. This means their treatments are entirely different.

So, if you have a family history of RA or have other risk factors, pay a visit to your doctor. He/she will request blood tests and other exams to make an accurate diagnosis.

Related: What doctor is best for knee pain?

8) Locking or buckling of the knee

This symptom usually means there’s a meniscus tear. The locking happens when a piece of the torn cartilage gets stuck in the joint, thus limiting its movement.

If your knee gets locked frequently, your doctor might suggest doing arthroscopic surgery. This would remove the piece that keeps getting stuck, so your joint can move freely.

Related: Healing a torn meniscus naturally

9) Lack of stability

Over time, wear and tear can damage the ligaments around the knee. And, a ligament injury can make you feel like your knee is about to give away under you.

If that’s bothering you too much, you could wear some kind of knee support during physical activities. It would keep your joint safe and stable.



Related: How to choose a knee brace

10) A visible knee deformity

Image showing knee deformities. Bowed knees on the left, knocked knees on the right.

Over time, knee osteoarthritis could change the shape of one or both knees.

On the outside, the joint may look smooth due to the swelling, as if there was no kneecap. Other people may develop a “bow knee” or “knocked knee.”

There’s no way to correct this, other than with surgery.

Can you have knee osteoarthritis without symptoms?

Yes!

In fact, research suggests that around 40-50% of people with knee osteoarthritis will have symptoms, while the other half won’t. The percentage of symptomatic patients increases for people with a previous knee injury or a high BMI. (5)

In a real-world scenario, this means that your X-rays or MRI might have shown damaged cartilage. But if you aren’t experiencing any of the symptoms, the only thing to do is manage any risk factors to delay its progression.

How to treat the symptoms of osteoarthritis in the knee?

The specific treatment goals will depend on your symptoms, lifestyle, medical history, and other factors.

With that said, these are the most common ways to treat the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis:

Home treatments

Knee osteoarthritis is a chronic condition. As such, it’s key you learn how to manage it at home. The most common home treatments include:

  • Heat/Cold therapy for reducing joint swelling and providing pain relief.
  • Exercises to strengthen your muscles and delay the degeneration process.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain.
  • Knee braces to help you in your daily activities.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) for managing pain.

Related: Treating your knee osteoarthritis at home

Non-surgical treatments

These treatments relieve symptoms when home remedies aren’t as effective, if you’ve had a flare-up, or if you suffer from chronic pain in your knee. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Physical therapy.
  • Injections, like hyaluronic acid or PRP.
  • Weight management strategies.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy.
  • Alternative therapies, like acupuncture.

Related: Ranking the most effective knee osteoarthritis treatments

Surgical treatments

When all the other treatments aren’t effective anymore and your quality of life has severely deteriorated, your doctor may recommend surgery.

The type of surgery for degenerative arthritis will depend on your age, overall health, medical history, lifestyle, and other factors. But, the most common surgeries for knee OA are:



  • Knee lavage/debridement.
  • Knee meniscectomy.
  • Knee osteotomy.
  • Partial knee replacement.
  • Total knee replacement.

Related: When surgery is needed for knee osteoarthritis

FAQs:

How do I know if I have knee osteoarthritis?

The best way to know is with a physical exam and an X-ray or MRI.

But, if you’re over 45 years old, there’s a 99% chance of having knee OA if you have these 6 symptoms at the same time (1):

– Persistent knee pain.
– Morning stiffness on your knee, lasting 30 minutes or less.
– Deteriorated quality of life due to knee problems.
– Knee grinding.
– Restricted knee movement.
– Bone spurs on your X-rays.

Who gets osteoarthritis of the knee?

Everyone can get this condition. But the likelihood increases for people (2):
– Over 60 years old.
– Athletes.
– With a previous knee injury.
– Overweight/Obese.
– Women.
– With diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or other metabolic diseases.
– With genetic predisposition.

What causes knee osteoarthritis?

Wear and tear. This can be due to aging, or another cause that accelerates the cartilage deterioration – such as a previous knee injury, having risk factors, etc.

Conclusion: Osteoarthritis in knee symptoms

Even though the knee joint gradually wears over time, some people will develop osteoarthritis symptoms while others won’t.

Also, the arthritis symptoms you have will depend on a myriad of factors – from your medical history to your genetics and lifestyle.

If you have any symptoms, visit a doctor or a physio. They will help you recover from them fast and avoid possible complications.

Resources:

  1. Zhang, W et al. “EULAR evidence-based recommendations for the diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis.” Annals of the rheumatic diseases vol. 69,3 (2010): 483-9. DOI: 10.1136/ard.2009.113100
  2. Hsu H, Siwiec RM. Knee Osteoarthritis. [Updated 2021 Jul 25]. Statpearls. Retrieved on February 2022 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507884/
  3. Heidari, Behzad. “Knee osteoarthritis prevalence, risk factors, pathogenesis and features: Part I.” Caspian journal of internal medicine vol. 2,2 (2011): 205-12.
  4. Sharma, Anirudh et al. “Anxiety and depression in patients with osteoarthritis: impact and management challenges.” Open access rheumatology: research and reviews vol. 8 103-113. 31 Oct. 2016, DOI: 10.2147/OARRR.S93516
  5. Murphy, Louise et al. “Lifetime risk of symptomatic knee osteoarthritis.” Arthritis and rheumatism vol. 59,9 (2008): 1207-13. DOI: 10.1002/art.24021

Author
Mich Torres (PT)
Mitch is a physical therapist, personal trainer, and nutrition coach. Fascinated with the knee joint, Mitch poured that passion into writing about knee pain and how to overcome it with movement. His goal is to teach you how to apply this knowledge into your daily life, so you can keep knee pain away for good.

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