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Knee Osteoarthritis: Symptoms and Treatment

What is Knee Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee is a common condition caused by degenerative wear and tear of the knee joint. It affects the cartilage in the joints.

The primary causes of knee OA include age-related wear and tear, joint injury, and repetitive stress on the knee. The cartilage is a flexible, tough tissue coating the ends of the bones. It allows the bones to glide over one another, cushioning the joint and absorbing any shocks. As it breaks down, the bones begin to grind against each other, reducing mobility and causing pain and inflammation.

Knee Osteoarthritis

Risk Factors

Risk factors of knee OA include:

  • Obesity
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Age (people 50+ are more likely to develop OA)
  • Gender (women are more likely to develop OA)
  • Previous joint injuries

Causes of Knee Osteoarthritis

Your body does not replace lost cartilage (although new research might be able to help). That means as the cartilage gradually wears away, the bone becomes more and more exposed. It’s commonly said that intensive activity causes more intense wear and tear. Doctors routinely repeat this “fact”. However, a study of marathon runners found no increased risk of knee OA. 

With that said, people who work with manual handling or spend a long time kneeling or squatting may be at greater risk. The main difference is probably the volume of synovial fluid available, which lubricates the joint.

Once the cartilage becomes rougher or bone is exposed, then the cartilage will continue to wear away. The more bone exposed, the greater the pain and inflammation become.

Warning Signs and Symptoms

As a progressive, degenerative condition, knee osteoarthritis symptoms begin mild and gradually worsen with time.

You may experience:

  • Persistent or Intermittent Pain: Especially after activity.
  • Morning Stiffness: Knee stiffness, particularly after periods of inactivity.
  • Swelling: Noticeable swelling around the knee joint.
  • Reduced Range of Motion: Difficulty in fully bending or straightening the knee.
  •  Grinding Sensation: A feeling of grinding or grating during knee movement.
  •  Instability: Sensation of the knee giving way or buckling.

In addition, people often complain that symptoms worsen with changes in weather, especially in cold or damp conditions. This likely sensitizes the nerves to pain.

X-rays of knee OA show several characteristic signs. Doctors look for bony spurs, narrowing of the joint space, increased bone formation around the joint, and cyst formation.

Stages of Knee Osteoarthritis

As a progressive condition, it’s critical to monitor the condition as the condition has the tendency to gradually get worse. This can help doctors assess the level of treatment required – even surgery may be considered in some cases.

Knee osteoarthritis is primarily assessed by X-ray. We can split the condition into five stages of progression:

  1. Normal. The knee joint is healthy, with no signs of OA. The cartilage is intact, and there is no pain or inflammation.
  2. Minor. Early signs of wear-and-tear are present, including slight cartilage damage and small bone spur growths. Pain is usually mild and intermittent.
  3. Mild. Noticeable wear on the cartilage alongside larger bone spurs. Pain is more frequent, and stiffness and discomfort are becoming a problem.
  4. Moderate. Significant cartilage loss, narrowing of the joint space, and increased bone spur growth. Pain and stiffness become more persistent with noticeable swelling

Severe. Extensive or complete cartilage loss. Bone-on-bone contact causes severe pain, chronic inflammation, and stiffness. Mobility is greatly reduced, and daily activities are extremely difficult.

Knee Osteoarthritis

Treatment Options

Treatment for knee osteoarthritis reflects the severity of the disease. Starting with mild treatments to manage the symptoms, the treatment options become less conservative as the condition continues to worsen. Currently, no treatment exists to reverse or prevent OA. However, (as mentioned) several teams are working on regenerating cartilage.

Drugs and Injections

Anti-inflammatory medications like NSAIDs and steroids are often the first-line treatment. Such medications relieve inflammation and discomfort, allowing individuals to continue their lives. The downside is the potential risk of side effects from long-term usage – for example, NSAIDs carry a higher risk of stomach ulcers.

Steroid injections are also possible. However, like NSAIDs, these medications are a temporary solution and do not address the root cause of the problem.


Physical therapists work to strengthen the muscles and ligaments surrounding the knee joint. They can also help improve flexibility. Alongside medications, physiotherapy is a first-line treatment. While it cannot reverse the condition, it can delay or prevent the need for surgery. At Form Recovery and Wellness, the aim of our physiotherapy program is to get you back to your normal daily routines without having to rely on painkillers.Physiotherapy can also prepare you for other forms of exercise. Low or moderate-impact exercise, such as walking or swimming, is one of the most safe and effective long-term treatments, according to a 2019 systematic review.

Lifestyle Modification

Weight loss and an exercise regimen go hand-in-hand with physiotherapy. Weight loss reduces the pressure on the joint, alleviating some inflammation. It also reduces the risk of continual progression – especially in people who are overweight or obese.


Surgery should always be the last option. It is recommended when other treatments haven’t provided relief. For knee OA, the standard surgical procedure is a partial or total knee replacement. The damaged ends of the bone are removed and replaced with a new prosthetic alternative. Long-term care provides pain relief, improves mobility, and enhances quality of life. However, the potential risks and long recovery time from the surgery is why other, non-invasive options are preferred first.

Prevention, Pre-operation, Rehabilitation Program

Our clinic offers comprehensive prevention and rehabilitation programs for osteoarthritis. For patients requiring surgery, we provide a complete preoperative and postoperative program. This approach, supported by journal evidence, is the most effective way to support recovery.

Form Recovery Team Photo at Clinic

Knee Osteoarthritis Treatment at Form Recovery and Wellness

Don’t let knee osteoarthritis symptoms lower your quality of life. With the right physiotherapy support and lifestyle advice, you can experience a significant reduction in symptoms.

We work closely with our patients to determine what they want to achieve. Our exercise regimens are tailored to each individual and help strengthen and improve flexibility in the joint. It’s far better than endlessly relying on painkillers.

Our physiotherapy clinic works closely with the Chinese Traditional Medicine department to find the best combination of therapies for your condition. Every case is reviewed by each Head of Department to guarantee you the highest chance of success.If you’re experiencing knee problems and suspect it might be osteoarthritis, schedule a consultation with us today. We’ll help you understand the root cause of your symptoms and develop a personalized treatment plan tailored to your needs.

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