Osteoarthritis Knee Symptoms
The symptoms of knee osteoarthris can differ widely from one patient to another. These symptoms can occur suddenly, however most develop gradually over time. The symptoms can be very dibilitating or mild, with some patients experiencing few symptoms even with obviouly degeneration in their knee joint as shown on an X-ray. It is not unusual for someone with knee osteoarthritis to go pain-free for months or even years between episodes of greater pain symptoms.
Early Knee Osteoarthritis Symptoms
When you have early osteoarthritis in your knee you generally will experience the following symptoms:
Constant or Recurring Pain or Tenderness
Pain and tenderness in your knee joint can be ongoing and feel like a dull tooth ache pain, or it can be a sharp, throbbing pain with sudden movements. Often you will feel pain and tenderness along the sides of your knees, over your knee joint line (where tibia and femur meet) and in front of your knee.
Pain is often worse in the morning or evening, or when you move your leg from a bent to straight position (or vice versa), or when you participate in a prolonged walking or standing activity (non-movement). Changes in weather or different seasons of the year can make a difference to the sensitivity you feel in your osteoarthritic knees (however, knee pain can be experienced in all weather environments). As the atmospheric pressure falls, the nerves in your knee are sensitive and react to pressure changes.
Stiffness will often be experienced in your knee joint, which will limit your range of motion so that you are not able to bend or straighten your knee all the way; making it difficult to climb stairs, or get in and out of chairs or bathtubs. This can result from periods of inactivity (morning stiffness, sitting or standing for long periods of time), or after vigorous movement in athletic or work pursuits. It generally lasts up to 30 minutes however it can persist for longer periods of time. It will often be difficult to use or move your knee joint normally during this time.
Swelling in your knee joint can occur either immediately if your blood vessels are disrupted because of a traumatic event, or within 12 hours after your joint tissues become inflamed. Swelling over time is a result of synovial fluid filling the joint cavity, as your body tries to protect itself (this is often called "water on the knee"). Warmth and redness that sometimes accompany swelling are normally not associated with osteoarthritis.
Progressive Knee Osteoarthritis Symptoms
As your knee osteoarthritis progresses, you may start to develop the following knee symptoms:
Deformity and joint enlargement will eventually result as your cartilage degenerates and bones become damaged. Bone spurs, cysts or overgrowths can develop as a result of ongoing knee symptoms due to your osteoarthritis. These are often tender when your skin is rubbed over them; and can result in irritation of other tissues and swelling. They can make it difficult to move your bones and can change the shape of your joint which force the bones out of their normal position and lead to deformity - knock-kneed/bowed-legged appearance.
Grinding, Popping or Locking
Knee joint grinding, clicking, popping or locking when you try to bend or straighten your knee can result from arthritis, as well as other knee injuries. This can range from being annoying to downright painful and can last a few seconds or be persistent for a few weeks. Joint locking often occurs after long periods of inactivity, when the meniscus fragment does not work its way out of being lodged between your bones. You will often feel a click or snap when it eventually unlocks. Sometimes you may have to manually move or manipulate your knee to get relief. You may experience your knees giving way because your thigh muscles have weakened, you've damaged ligaments or you have a Popliteal or Baker's Cyst (soft lump at the back of your knees leading into your calf).
Difficulties Performing Activities
Functional limitation as a result of osteoarthritis is very common in daily activities, work and/or recreational pursuits. This makes it very difficult to stoop, bend, kneel, stand more than 2 hours, walk 1 mile, push a heavy object, climb a flight of stairs, lift or carry 10 pounds, sit more than 2 hours, reach above your head and/or grasp small objects (as noted in the figure below).
Depression and anxiety will often be experienced as the osteoarthritis symptoms progress and you start to feel like a hostage in your own body. These often leave you feeling fatigued, irritable, restless, hopeless, and guilty. Your pain and inability to participate in everyday activities may make it more difficult for you to concentrate and make decisions, and your interest in the people and things around may start to decrease. Overall your self-esteem and self-image really decline. However, it is possible to treat your osteoarthritis symptoms, you can start to feel more like your old self and begin to return to the activities you enjoy.
Knee osteoarthritis symptoms don't generally affect other areas of your body. They are generally localized to one area; however they can affect people in different ways. Some people will only have a problem with 1 knee, others will have it with both knees, some experience gradual pain with little change over the years, others experience vast changes over the years. Often the cartilage on the inside of your knee, wears out faster than on the outside of your knee.
Should You Seek Medical Attention?
This is up to your discretion; however any continued discomfort in your knee should be investigated. If you experience any of the symptoms for more than 2 weeks, or you find the symptoms interfere with daily living (can't complete normal task) and you've tried the initial conservative treatments. It is recommended that you seek professional medical attention when you experience:
- Increased or constant instability or inflammation of the knee (swelling, pain, heat or redness) that lasts longer than 3-4 days.
- Locking, catching or buckling of your knee on a regular basis, or very limited range of motion (can't fully extend, bend or rotate your knee or lower leg).
- Constant clicking, popping or grinding sounds in your knee.
- Unable to participate in activities or work due to the pain or limited range of motion.
- Knee looks deformed or you have significant bruising around that area.
- A traumatic accident may have broken or dislocated a bone.
- Any other unusual symptoms.
Taking measures to protect your knees and maintain healthy joints is something everyone can do to prevent knee pain. Should knee injury or disease become a part of your life, understanding your condition is the first step in determining the appropriate treatment.
Get an accurate diagnosis from your physician and discuss your options. Proper treatment will allow you to resume your activities faster and safer.
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