Knee pain can stop you in your tracks and impact your entire life. Your knees are the most hardworking and complex joints in the body, making them vulnerable to injury and disease throughout your lifetime. Osteoarthritis is one of the most common afflictions of the knee,1 but it’s a condition you can take charge of, work through, and overcome its symptoms.

What is Osteoarthritis (OA)?

In healthy joints, cartilage (a flexible connective tissue) and synovial fluid (a thick, gel-like liquid) provide the cushioning and lubrication your bones need to glide over each other properly.1,2 This helps reduce friction, absorb the shock of movement, and protect bones from constant impact.1 It’s nature’s way of keeping your joints in great shape.

With osteoarthritis, cartilage begins to break down and the amount of hyaluronic acid (HA) within the synovial fluid decreases, causing it to become thinner.1,2 HA is a natural substance in joint tissue and fluid that acts as a lubricant and shock absorber. The loss of HA contributes to pain, inflammation, swelling, and problems with moving your joint.3

What causes OA?

OA was long believed to be caused by years of overuse or “wear and tear,” and affects people gradually from middle age onward.1 However scientist now view it as a disease of the joint. Some factors that can contribute to the development of OA are obesity, repetitive injury from sports or certain occupations, metabolic disorders and genetics.4

What are the symptoms of OA?

The symptoms and severity of OA can vary greatly, thus what you feel may be different from someone else’s experience. In general, here are the most common signs and symptoms that may indicate you are suffering from OA:1

  • Sore, painful joints that feel stiff in the morning or after a period of rest
  • Pain and swelling around your joint after a high-activity day
  • A “grating” or “crackling” sensation when you move your joint
  • Decreasing range of motion and flexibility due to pain and tenderness

The pain and discomfort of OA, if left untreated, can make it difficult for your joints to perform the everyday tasks and activities you require. These symptoms usually build up over time; so don’t ignore the early warning signs.

How is OA diagnosed?

Typically, doctors diagnose osteoarthritis during physical exams and may use imaging tests such as X-rays, ultrasound, or MRIs to estimate the severity of your disease. In some cases, your doctor may want to confirm your OA diagnosis and rule out other problems by ordering blood tests, a joint fluid analysis, or arthroscopy.5,6

How is OA treated, and what are my options?

The goals of treating OA are to manage pain, improve function,3 slow disease progression, and delay total knee replacement (TKR) surgery for as long as possible. There are many OA patients who are able to delay TKR surgery.

Many people can manage their condition well and enjoy an active lifestyle for many years. There are a variety of excellent treatment options and you can work with your doctor to customize a treatment plan that’s right for you.

Here are some of the most common lifestyle recommendations and medical treatments your doctor might suggest7-10:

OA Lifestyle Recommendations

OA Medical Treatments

Keep moving – Regular, low-impact physical activities like taking a short walk or a gentle exercise class are important to preserve the joint’s range of motion and overall flexibility. Analgesics – These are pain-relieving drugs available over-the-counter (OTC) or by prescription. Examples are acetaminophen, tramadol, and opioids.
Maintain a healthy weight – Losing excess weight can help reduce stress on load-bearing joints like the knees. Less body mass weighing down your joint can decrease pain and limit further damage. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) – This is the most commonly used category of drugs to reduce inflammation and ease pain. Available OTC or by prescription, some examples are aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and celecoxib.
Practice regular stretching – Strengthening the muscles around arthritic joints can help ease their burden and reduce stiffness and pain. Try aquatics, tai chi, or yoga to gently build strength and flexibility. Corticosteroids – Steroids are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs, which can be taken by mouth or injected into the joint.
Stay positive – Depression and anxiety can negatively affect your healthy efforts, so try to keep a positive outlook. There are many stress-reducing resources to help you relax, boost your immune system, and better tolerate pain. Hyaluronic acid (HA) – HA is a natural substance found in joints, which plays a critical role in joint lubrication and shock absorption. HA is injected directly into the joint at a doctor’s office.

Talk to Your Doctor About OA

Many factors influence which therapies are right for you, including the status of your health, other medications you take, and if your OA case is mild, moderate, or severe. The earlier you and your doctor work together, the sooner you can begin a treatment plan that’s right for you.