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About osteoarthritis of the knee

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, affecting more Canadians than all other forms of arthritis combined.

Osteoarthritis definition

What is osteoarthritis?

It’s a progressive disease that develops in the joints and leads to the breakdown of joint cartilage and underlying bone. It develops as a result of the body’s failed attempt to repair damaged joint tissues. The joints that are most commonly affected include the knees, hips, big toes, hands, and spine.

Did you know?

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, affecting nearly

5

million
Canadians.

That’s equivalent to 1 in 6!

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Osteoarthritis symptoms

Usually the first symptom of osteoarthritis is pain that worsens following exercise or immobility. Others include:

  • Aching
  • Morning joint stiffness (lasting less than 30 minutes)
  • Joint pain
  • Joint swelling
  • Development of bony spurs
  • Reduced joint flexibility
  • Grating sensation

Symptoms usually come and go, but the intensity of the pain increases over time as the disease progresses.

Not sure if your knee pain is osteoarthritis?

Treatment can vary depending on the cause of your knee pain. Use our clinic locator to find a specialist near you who can diagnose the cause of your knee pain.

Osteoarthritis vs. rheumatoid arthritis

What’s the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis?

Arthritis is a general term for conditions that affect the joints and the tissues that surround them. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the two most common types.

Osteoarthritis refers to damage that is caused by overuse of joints, an injury, or excessive body weight. Your risk of developing osteoarthritis increases as you age. This is not the case for rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune inflammatory disease, in which the body attacks its own healthy tissue. In addition to joint symptoms, people with rheumatoid arthritis may also experience systemic symptoms.

Inner view of a knee
Osteoarthritis causes

What causes osteoarthritis?

For most people, joint damage can occur when otherwise healthy joints are exposed to heavy workloads over a long period of time. This leads to joint injuries due to repeated overuse. Frequently performing a particular task or sport or carrying around excess body weight can lead to osteoarthritis. Eventually the joint cartilage, the cushion at the ends of the bones, wears away. As a result, the bones rub together, causing a grating sensation.

Pain from osteoarthritis of the knee is caused by changes in synovial fluid and joint structures

A healthy knee contains synovial fluid, a viscous liquid that is responsible for lubricating the joint and absorbing shocks. Hyaluronic acid is a major component of normal synovial fluid and contributes to the fluid’s viscoelastic properties. Pain from osteoarthritis of the knee is caused by changes in synovial fluid and joint structures.

Inner view of a healthy knee joint
Healthy knee joint
  1. Cartilage: Tough elastic material that protects the ends of the bones
  2. Synovial fluid: Thick liquid that lubricates and cushions the joint
Inner view of an osteoarthritis of the knee

Changes in the synovial fluid and degeneration of joint structures may lead to pain in people with osteoarthritis of the knee.

Osteoarthritis of the knee
  1. Exposed bone
  2. Cartilage wears away: Over time, the bone surfaces may rub together
  3. Cartilage begins to break down
  4. Synovial fluid becomes less healthy: The fluid becomes thinner and less elastic
  5. Eroding meniscus
  6. Bone spurs

Changes in the synovial fluid and degeneration of joint structures may lead to pain in people with osteoarthritis of the knee.

Managing osteoarthritis

Knee osteoarthritis treatment options

Although there is currently no cure for osteoarthritis, symptoms can be managed through a variety of strategies. These include:

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Over-the-counter and/or prescription medication to treat the pain
  • Knee injections (viscosupplementation, corticosteroid injections, or platelet-rich plasma)
  • Surgery

Learn more about treatment options

Dr. Bhandari
MD, PhD, FRCSC
What is viscosupplementation and how can it help osteoarthritis of the knee?

Listen to orthopedic specialists explain the causes of osteoarthritis and available treatment options

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Get expert advice on how to manage your osteoarthritis symptoms through diet and exercise

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Exercise can help decrease pain caused by osteoarthritis while improving your flexibility and fitness level

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