After a long day of sitting at the office, your knee hurts when you stand up. If you commonly experience these symptoms, they could be an early indication of osteoarthritis of the knee. Learn more about the condition and its causes, the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee and how it is diagnosed. We also give you some initial tips for what you can beyond diagnosis and how Bauerfeind supports and orthoses work.
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis refers to the destruction of the protective layer of cartilage between the bones in the joints. In contrast to arthritis, osteoarthritis does not involve inflammation but rather the chronic wear of a joint.
The knee is the most complex joint in the human body. The cartilage in the knee protects the joint and absorbs strain during movement and impact. It ensures that the thigh and lower leg bones do not directly rub against each other. Over the course of a lifetime, it is completely normal for our cartilage to wear down. This is why elderly people are commonly affected by osteoarthritis of the knee. Under certain circumstances, however, such wear on cartilage can become excessive even among younger people. The causes can vary widely: excessive strain, for example as a result of strenuous physical labor, competitive sports or obesity, causes extensive wear on the cartilage and influences the age at which osteoarthritis occurs.
Osteoarthritis of the knee is one of the most commonly reported occupational diseases of the musculoskeletal system.
German Social Accident Insurance Association
Other causes of osteoarthritis of the knee
Joint misalignments such as knock knees or bandy legs, incorrect movements or injuries can also cause osteoarthritis of the knee. It is also possible for osteoarthritis of the knee to be triggered by joint injuries and bonefractures. In addition, individuals with gout can suffer adverse effects due to the deposits of uric acid crystals that collect in their joints. If the knee joint is affected by this build-up, cartilage tissue will be damaged. This may result in osteoarthritis in the knee.
Although the disease is not hereditary, the mechanisms for developing osteoarthritis can be passed on in some cases. If the causes for osteoarthritis of the knee cannot be identified, this is referred to as primary osteoarthritis. When external factors cause wear, this is known as secondary osteoarthritis.
Identifying the stages of osteoarthritis of the knee
Osteoarthritis of the knee develops gradually. In some cases, it can progress without symptoms at first, even if cartilage damage can already be seen on an X-ray. Stiff knees after sitting or after other long rest phases could be an early sign of osteoarthritis in the knee. This start-up pain subsides after a few minutes or after taking a few steps. After that, the knee can be moved freely again. Cracking or crunching sounds in the knee can also be initial indicators for early osteoarthritis.
In more advanced stages of the disease, pain increases steadily and also occurs more frequently. This knee pain becomes more intense particularly when the knees are exposed to stress during exercise or when climbing stairs. As the disease progresses, even slight movements in everyday routines can lead to pain that may ultimately be experienced even when the knees are at rest or during sleep. If the cartilage has already been so damaged that the thigh and lower leg bones rub directly against one another, extremely painful joint inflammations may develop. Signs of inflammation are a swollen knee joint and reddened skin that also feels warm or hot.
At a very advanced stage of osteoarthritis of the knee, patients experience severe restriction of movement and pain. For this reason, most patients place as little strain on their knee as possible. However, this lack of movement reduces the blood flow to the cartilage, which in turn worsens cartilage damage due to insufficient supply of nutrients. In severe cases, the knee can become stiff. The progression of osteoarthritis of the knee is not only associated with pain and impaired mobility. Osteoarthritis of the knee can also cause incapacity for work or lead to early retirement.
Knee pain: what symptoms mean you should see a physician?
If knee pain occurs regularly, you should visit an orthopedist. The physician will ask about the type of symptoms and when they occur. Previous knee injuries and underlying disorders are also important information for the physician. The physician will examine the knee joint using various tests. In the process, the mobility and functionality of the knee joint will be evaluated.
However, a reliable diagnosis will only be possible if X-ray images show advanced cartilage wear. A clear sign of such wear is a narrowing of the joint space. It is harder to clearly detect cartilage injuries, for example after sports accidents, so magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be helpful in such cases.
Osteoarthritis of the knee – what can be done at diagnosis and beyond?
If the physician determines that the cartilage is already damaged, this cannot be reversed. But there are a variety of different methods for relieving pain and slowing down the progression of the disease. Bauerfeind knee supports and knee orthoses help to relieve, stabilize and mobilize the joint under strain. Physical therapy and therapeutic exercise often help to strengthen the muscles and place less strain on the joint. If required, the physician will prescribe anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medications. The form and progression of the disease can be positively influenced, allowing mobility and vitality to return.
Self-test: do I have osteoarthritis of the knee?
With our osteoarthritis self-test, you can gain a better understanding of your knee pain and determine your personal risk of osteoarthritis. Afterwards, a visit to your physician can give you a reliable diagnosis.