Knee arthritis is an umbrella term that spans several different types of arthritis – osteo, rheumatoid, psoriatic and reactive arthritis as well as gout and pseudo gout. We will discuss the separate causes of each of these as well as their respective symptoms. Although there are no fundamental treatments for knee arthritis, there are several things you can do to relieve its pain and discomfort. We will briefly mention some of these below. This done, we will also briefly describe the most common surgical approaches to address the disease.
Types & Symptoms Of Knee Arthritis
This type of arthritis in the knee occurs when the cartilage in the joint – a protein based lining that prevents the bones coming into direct contact with each other – starts to wear away. The result of the bones rubbing against each other can be significant pain, stiffness of the joint and a decrease in its range of motion. This is probably the best known type of knee arthritis and it mainly affects those who are middled aged or older. We provide a thorough discussion of it on a separate page.
This is an auto immune form of arthritis in which your body’s immune system attacks the lining of your knee joint and causes it to become inflamed and painful. Another difference between this type of arthritis and knee osteoarthritis (which is not an auto immune condition) is the fact that, when it occurs, it attacks both the left and right knee or other joints. Besides the knee, this condition can also appear in the hands and wrists, for example.
Psoriatic arthritis is another auto immune form of knee arthritis. As with the other forms of knee arthritis, your knee will feel painful, swollen, stiff and tender. As with rheumatoid arthritis, this disease may also affect areas such as your fingers and toes. Studies have indicated a connection between this type of arthritis and psoriasis, an auto immune skin disease that causes discoloration and raising of areas of the skin.
This type of knee arthritis commonly appears as a reaction to an infection such as a stomach bug or even a sexually transmitted disease. Although it is a reaction to the infection, reactive arthritis may not appear until well after the underlying infection has been cured. It can affect any joint in the body, and not just the knee. Symptoms are swelling of the knee (as with the other forms of knee arthritis) but may also include aching and redness of the knee.
This disease is also known as the “rich man’s disease” and is due to the build up of uric acid crystals in the knee joint. Although we discuss it here as a knee condition, it actually most commonly appears in the joints of the foot and most usually the big toe joint. It causes severe pain that may worsen at night, as well as swelling, warmth and redness of the joint.
This condition is similar to gout in that it is also a result of the accumulation of crystals in the knee (or other) joint. However, in this case, the crystals are actually those of calcium pyrophosphate instead of uric acid. Although this type of knee arthritis is less common overall than gout, it is more likely to attack the knee joint.
Other Types Of Knee Arthritis
We have listed above the most common types of knee arthritis. However, in reality, there are actually about 100 different types of this condition.
We now briefly discuss the treatment for knee arthritis in its various forms. We will start with conservative (non surgical) and then move on to surgical approaches. It must be reiterated that there are no fundamental cures for knee (or other forms of) arthritis. Instead, the focus should be on reducing your pain and discomfort and slowing the rate of arthritic progression.
Conservative Knee Arthritis Treatments
These can include:
Reducing strenuous activities that may stress your knee by requiring extensive bending and straightening. An example of this might be climbing and descending stairs. If you are in a position to do so, you can modify your home to reduce the need for stair use;
Switching from high impact forms of exercise to those requiring less impact, such as swimming or cycling;
Wearing a knee brace to reduce the stress on the joint. This can be a hinged knee brace or knee stabilizer that will provide greater overall knee support. A knee sleeve can help to keep your knee warm and reduce arthritic pain and stiffness. Alternatively, if you are suffering from knee osteoarthritis, you can consider an unloader knee brace that will shift weight wearing to areas of the knee with healthier joint cartilage;
Using a cane or crutches (if this is not inconvenient) can also reduce the stress of weight bearing on the knee and slow the rate of arthritis progression;
Topical pain relief medications may be useful in reducing your discomfort. If the pain is severe, your doctor may also suggest a non steroidal pain relief or anti inflammatory medication;
Changes in diet and activity level to reduce body weight can reduce the stress on the knee as well as slow the rate of progress of your knee arthritis;
Changes in diet can also help to slow the loss of cartilage lining that is at the root of some forms of knee arthritis. For example, some arthritis sufferers have reported relief from incorporating glucosamine and/or chondroitin in their diets.
If your knee arthritis does not respond to the conservative treatments above, your healthcare advisors may ask you to consider surgery to address it.
The most common types of surgery to correct arthritis in the knee are:
An operation to transfer (or graft) cartilage from another area of your knee (or from that of a donor) to replace damaged knee cartilage;
Surgery to remove the synovial joint lining that is under attack from rheumatoid arthritis;
Reshaping of the knee bones to reduce the pressure of them rubbing against each other;
Knee replacement surgery, in which the entire joint is replaced by one made from metal or plastic.
If you agree to undergo surgery to correct your knee arthritis, expect to spend as much as six months or more in recovery. In addition, you will likely need to invest significant effort in rehabilitation under the supervision of a physiotherapist. Patience will be an essential ingredient during this period. The good news is that most knee arthritis surgery is ultimately successful in reducing your pain and restoring a significant part of your quality of life.