Knee Arthritis

Knee arthritis affects more than 32 million people in the United States. There are several types of knee arthritis, with the most common being osteoarthritis or arthritis from wear and tear.

Learn how UPMC Orthopaedic Care experts treat each patient with a comprehensive, individualized approach to knee arthritis.

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Symptoms of Knee Arthritis

Signs and symptoms vary for each patient but often include:

  • A cracking sound when moving the knee.
  • A decrease in mobility.
  • A feeling of warmth in the joint.
  • Pain and swelling that increases when you’re active.
  • Stiffness in the knee, especially in the morning or after a long period of sitting.

Knee Arthritis Diagnosis

When a patient comes to us with knee pain, our first step is to conduct a thorough evaluation. We believe in evaluating the whole body, not just the knee. This helps to identify any other medical conditions that could impact treatment. It also helps us understand the patient’s goals and activity level, important considerations when developing a treatment plan.

The physical exam allows us to identify any abnormalities, swelling or fluid in the joints, range of motion, and muscle strength.

Diagnostic tests are also often part of the evaluation and can include x-ray, MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound.

Treatment of Knee Arthritis

Osteoarthritis of the knee is often first treated with a nonoperative treatment plan. This could include:

  • Home exercises.
  • Structured physical therapy.
  • Bracing.
  • Walking aids.
  • Injection therapy with cortisone.
  • Over-the-counter or prescription medication.
  • Weight loss.

The patient must understand that there is no cure for arthritis. Rather, we will find ways to help the patient manage symptoms through activity modification or recommendations on proper footwear.

If the patient does not respond to nonoperative treatment, or if other conservative methods fail to address the symptoms and alleviate pain, surgical treatment is likely the next step.

This may include minimally invasive arthroscopic techniques, which are somewhat limited in efficacy for arthritis. Other surgical options include an osteotomy, which is a procedure to realign the limb. Some patients may be a candidate for partial or total knee replacement. However, this is usually reserved for patients with severe knee arthritis when other treatments have failed.

There are three compartments in the knee, including the medial, lateral, and patellofemoral. If several are affected, a total knee replacement is the surgical treatment of choice. However, if only one compartment is affected, you may be a candidate for a partial knee replacement.

“Compared to a total knee replacement, a partial knee replacement can better restore your natural knee movement,” says Eric Chen, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in joint reconstruction with Tri Rivers Musculoskeletal Centers and director of Anterior Hip Surgery, UPMC Passavant. “Patients who undergo a partial knee replacement often say their knee feels more natural after surgery compared to a total knee replacement, which may make your knee feel more mechanical.”

Knee Arthritis Recovery and Prognosis

Postoperative physical and occupational therapy will help the patient regain range of motion and restore their independence.

The team works to ensure a seamless transition from hospital to home, including arrangements for home health care if necessary. This could include a nurse, a physical therapist, and home health equipment. Other patients may require inpatient rehabilitation or a stay in a skilled nursing facility following joint replacement.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Orthopaedic Care

When you are dealing with bone, muscle, or joint pain, it can affect your daily life. UPMC Orthopaedic Care can help. As a national leader in advanced orthopaedic care, we diagnose and treat a full range of musculoskeletal disorders, from the acute and chronic to the common and complex. We provide access to UPMC’s vast network of support services for both surgical and nonsurgical treatments and a full continuum of care. Our multidisciplinary team of experts will work with you to develop the treatment plan that works best for you. Our care team uses the most innovative tools and techniques to provide better outcomes. We also are leaders in research and clinical trials, striving to find better ways to provide our patients care. With locations throughout our communities, you can find a provider near you.