3 Ways to Self-Evaluate for Knee Arthritis

Did you know that there are more than 100 types of arthritis? Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most prevalent type of arthritis. Sometimes referred to as the “wear and tear” type of arthritis, it occurs when the cartilage covering the joints in our body begins to break down and wear away. Cartilage acts as a shock absorber and allows for ease of movement; when it wears away, the bones begin to rub against each other and can be pretty uncomfortable. Knowing this, it is no surprise that common symptoms of OA are pain, particularly with movement and stiffness.

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis affecting the knee joint. Our knee is one of the largest joints in the human body and consists of the femur (our thigh bone), the tibia (our shin bone) and the patella (the kneecap). The surfaces of each of these bones are covered with cartilage to provide cushioning. The knee also has two particular pieces of cartilage that sit between the femur and tibia, called the meniscus.

Knee osteoarthritis occurs with aging; other causes include infections, trauma, and excess body weight, and some people may have a strong family history that predisposes them.

close up of knee with pain
laying down holding knee stretch
sitting while stretching one leg out

Symptoms of Knee OA

Symptoms of knee OA include pain and stiffness, especially first thing in the morning. This stiffness usually lasts about 15-20 minutes until the joint warms up a bit; however it may return after a lot of activity or at the end of the day. Other symptoms include swelling, strange “creaking noises” when moving, and a loss of strength and flexibility.

Simple Ways to Assess Your Knees

You can look in a mirror to check your knee for swelling and compare sides. Both knees may be affected by knee OA and have some swelling, but usually, one side is worse. You can also evaluate your knees’ flexibility. Remember that stiffness is one of the earliest signs of knee OA. Our knees have two significant movements: flexion (bending) and extension (straightening). Both are important, but knee extension is the most important to walk and stand comfortably.

To assess your knee flexion movement, you can lay on your back and bring one knee into your chest at a time. Compare sides: does one side have more movement or feel more comfortable in the knee joint?

To evaluate your knee extension, you can sit with one leg extended: see if you can press the back of your knee down toward the ground. Again compare sides to see if there is a difference.

Many things, including knee OA, can cause a difference in movement between left and right sides but if you notice a difference, make an appointment with your physical therapist to assess your knee. It is much easier to treat a problem in the early stages to prevent it from getting worse. There are many treatment options for osteoarthritis, including:

  • Physical therapy: a first-line treatment for osteoarthritis. A physiotherapist can provide you with a proper diagnosis, an exercise plan to improve the mobility and strength of the affected area of your body, pain management strategies such as acupuncture, and will also examine the mechanics of nearby joints, including the hips and ankles to see if there is any unnecessary stress coming from these areas. For some advanced cases of OA, your physiotherapist might suggest a brace or cane.
  • Weight loss: this can help to reduce the additional load on the joint
  • Medications such as anti-inflammatories
  • Injection therapies like cortisone or hyaluronic acid
  • Surgery: usually reserved for very advanced cases of OA. Even if you are a candidate for surgery, your surgeon may recommend a course of physical therapy to get you in the best shape possible before surgery. Most people will also have PT both in the hospital and in a community clinic after surgery.

Book an Appointment Today!

If you have any further questions about OA or our services, contact one of Innovation Physical Therapy’s experienced physiotherapists by calling one of our five clinics throughout Edmonton, including Riverbend, Belvedere, Namao, or our newest clinic in Southgate Mall.