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.