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Knee Osteoarthritis: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments Options

An Introduction to Knee Osteoarthritis

Knee osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint condition characterized by the breakdown of cartilage in the knee joint. It commonly affects older individuals and leads to symptoms like pain, stiffness, swelling, and reduced mobility. The impact on daily life can be significant, causing difficulty walking, climbing stairs, and performing routine activities.

Understanding the causes of knee osteoarthritis is crucial for effective management. Factors like aging, obesity, joint injuries, and genetic predisposition play a role. Recognizing the symptoms early allows for timely intervention and appropriate treatment options such as medication, physical therapy, lifestyle modifications, and surgical interventions like joint replacement in severe cases.

What is Knee Osteoarthritis

When the cartilage in your knee joint deteriorates, it leads to knee osteoarthritis, allowing the bones to come into direct contact. This friction causes pain, stiffness, and occasional swelling in your knees. Although a complete cure for knee osteoarthritis is not available, numerous treatments are aimed at slowing its progression and relieving symptoms. For more severe cases, surgery can be considered as an option.

Understanding the Causes of Knee Osteoarthritis

Just like how cars have shock absorbers, we do too! The cartilage between our knee joints acts as a shock absorber protecting the knee from injuries. This can be subjected to wear and tear, leading to knee osteoarthritis. Let's look at a few risk factors:


Age is a causal factor for knee osteoarthritis due to the cumulative effects of wear and tear on the joint over time. As we age, the cartilage in the knee joint gradually deteriorates and loses its ability to repair itself, leading to the development of osteoarthritis.


Genetics can play a role in the development of knee osteoarthritis. Certain genetic variations can influence the structure and composition of cartilage, making it more susceptible to damage or less capable of repairing itself. Additionally, genetic factors can affect the production of proteins involved in joint health, inflammation, and bone remodeling, contributing to an increased risk of developing knee osteoarthritis. 


Obesity is a contributing factor to the development and progression of knee osteoarthritis. Excess weight increases stress on the knee joints, leading to accelerated tear and wear of the cartilage. The additional load on the knee joints can result in inflammation, joint instability, and structural changes. Furthermore, adipose tissue (fat) releases inflammatory substances that can further contribute to joint inflammation and damage. 

Repetitive stress on Joints

Repetitive stress on the joints, caused by activities or occupations involving repetitive motions or excessive loading, can contribute to the development of knee osteoarthritis. Over time, this repetitive stress leads to microtrauma, wear and tear of the joint structures, disrupting the balance between cartilage breakdown and repair. This gradual cartilage damage and degeneration increase the risk of knee osteoarthritis.

Joint injuries and overuse

Joint injuries can increase the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis. Injuries to the knee, such as ligament tears or fractures, can cause structural damage to the joint and disrupt the normal functioning of the cartilage. The trauma and inflammation resulting from the injury can accelerate the degeneration of the cartilage, leading to the development of osteoarthritis.

Hormonal Factors

Hormonal factors, specifically estrogen levels, can influence knee osteoarthritis, particularly in women. The decline in estrogen during menopause can contribute to a higher risk of developing knee osteoarthritis. Estrogen plays a role in maintaining healthy joint tissues, and its deficiency may affect cartilage quality. Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle or pregnancy can also impact symptoms in women with knee osteoarthritis.

Recognizing the Common Symptoms of Knee Osteoarthritis

The knee joints are subject to use daily, so the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis can be identified quickly. It may involve discomfort in the following ways:


As the protective cartilage in the knee joint wears down, the bones can rub against each other, leading to friction and discomfort. The loss of cushioning and shock absorption ability of the cartilage can result in pain during weight-bearing activities such as climbing stairs, walking, or standing for prolonged periods.


Stiffness is a common symptom of knee osteoarthritis, often experienced after periods of inactivity or prolonged rest. When the cartilage in the knee joint deteriorates, it affects the smooth gliding motion of the joint. As a result, individuals may feel stiffness and difficulty bending or straightening their knees.


Swelling can be a symptom of knee osteoarthritis due to inflammation within the joint. The breakdown of cartilage in the knee can trigger an inflammatory response, accumulating fluid and swelling in the affected area. 

Reduced functionality

Reduced functionality is a prevalent symptom of knee osteoarthritis, stemming from the impaired structure and function of the joint. As the cartilage wears away and inflammation occurs, the knee joint's stability and range of motion are compromised. This can result in difficulties with walking, bending, and stair climbing.


Instability can occur as a symptom of knee osteoarthritis due to the progressive deterioration of cartilage and structural alterations in the joint. With the breakdown of cartilage, the knee joint loses its stability, leading to a sensation of looseness or instability. 

Bone spurs

Bone spurs, also known as osteophytes, can develop as a symptom of knee osteoarthritis. The gradual breakdown of cartilage in the knee joint prompts the body to produce additional bone to compensate for the loss. These bony outgrowths, or spurs, can form along the edges of the joint. They may cause pain, inflammation, and further restriction of joint movement.

Cracking sensation in the knee joint

Cracking or popping sensations, known as crepitus, can occur as a knee osteoarthritis symptom. As the cartilage in the knee joint wears down, the space between the bones may change, causing a release of gas bubbles when the joint moves. 

Diagnosis of Knee Osteoarthritis

To diagnose knee osteoarthritis, the doctor will:

- Evaluate the patient's symptoms and medical history.

- Conduct a physical examination, assessing the knee for swelling, tenderness, and range of motion.

- Order imaging tests, such as MRI scans or X-rays, to visualize the knee joint and assess the extent of cartilage damage.

- In some cases, perform joint fluid analysis to examine the fluid in the knee for signs of inflammation or joint degeneration.

- Blood tests may be done to rule out other potential causes of joint pain and stiffness.

These diagnostic approaches help the doctor assess the presence and severity of knee osteoarthritis, guiding the development of an appropriate treatment plan.

Treatment for Knee Osteoarthritis

The main treatments for osteoarthritis include lifestyle changes, over-the-counter medication, and supportive therapies. There is no direct cure for the illness, but there have been a few cases where surgery has helped.

Non-surgical treatments

The primary goal of non-surgical treatments for knee osteoarthritis is to alleviate symptoms, enhance function, and delay the condition's advancement. Several non-surgical options are available to achieve these objectives. These include:

Pain medications

Pain medication, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or analgesics, can be a non-surgical treatment for knee osteoarthritis. These medications help alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, and improve mobility, providing symptomatic relief for individuals with knee osteoarthritis.

Exercise program

Specific exercises, such as strengthening, range of motion, and low-impact aerobic exercises, can help improve joint stability, reduce pain, enhance flexibility, and improve joint health and function.

Injections of corticosteroids

These injections can provide short-term pain relief by reducing inflammation in the knee joint. Corticosteroid injections may help alleviate symptoms and improve function in individuals with knee osteoarthritis, although the effects are typically temporary.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy plays a vital role in managing knee osteoarthritis. Through targeted exercises and techniques, it helps improve joint mobility, strengthen surrounding muscles, and enhance overall knee function. 

Use assistive devices

Assistive devices, such as knee braces, can support and stabilize the affected joint in knee osteoarthritis. These devices help offload pressure, reduce pain, and improve mobility. Assistive devices like canes or crutches can also aid in weight distribution, reducing strain on the knee joint during walking or weight-bearing activities.

Lifestyle modifications

Several lifestyle modifications can benefit individuals with knee osteoarthritis, including maintaining a healthy weight to reduce joint stress, engaging in regular low-impact exercise, avoiding activities aggravating the knee, using proper footwear, and implementing joint protection strategies during daily activities.

Surgical Interventions for Severe Cases

In severe cases of knee osteoarthritis, surgical interventions such as total knee replacement, partial knee replacement, arthroscopic surgery, osteotomy, and cartilage restoration procedures may be recommended. These surgeries aim to alleviate pain, improve joint function, and enhance the quality of life for individuals with advanced knee osteoarthritis.

Prevention of Knee Osteoarthritis

To reduce the risk of knee osteoarthritis and slow its progression, consider the following steps:

  • Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly to prevent excessive strain on the knee joints.
  • Follow a balanced diet with adequate vitamins and minerals, and consider incorporating anti-inflammatory supplements like omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Wear properly fitting and supportive footwear to reduce knee stress and promote proper alignment.
  • Practice stretching and strengthening exercises to improve joint stability and prevent muscle imbalances.
  • Consider using knee braces or assistive devices for added support and protection during activities that may strain the knees.

With healthcare professionals' guidance, you can effectively manage knee osteoarthritis and improve your quality of life. Please take action today by booking your appointment with us at Phyisiotattva!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main cause of knee osteoarthritis?

The main cause of knee osteoarthritis is the breakdown of cartilage in the knee joint over time.

What is the best treatment for knee osteoarthritis?

The best treatment for knee osteoarthritis depends on the individual and may include a combination of non-surgical options such as exercise, medications, and lifestyle modifications.

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