Knee Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Pain, Swelling, Stiffness, and Other Knee OA Symptoms

The symptoms of knee osteoarthritis usually develop gradually. This is because it takes time for the cartilage to wear down and change the way your joints work. However, sudden onset of symptoms is possible—but not as common.

You may notice the following symptoms of osteoarthritis in the knee:

  • Stiffness and swelling: Feeling that it’s tough to move your knee(s) when you first get up in the morning or after sitting down for awhile is an osteoarthritis symptom. The swelling makes it hard to bend or straighten your knee. Pain and stiffness are often worse in the morning or after being inactive, while swelling usually occurs after a long period of excessive activity. And changes in the weather—when it's rainy and/or cold—can also make the pain and other knee OA symptoms feel worse.
  • Pain: As with stiffness and swelling, pain can be worse in the morning or after you haven’t moved in awhile. You may also notice more pain after certain activities—walking or climbing stairs, for example.
  • Limited movement: The pain, stiffness, and swelling can make it harder for you to sit down, stand up, or walk.
  • Warmth in the knee joint: The knee joint can become inflamed, and warmth around the joint is a sign of that inflammation.

Knee Osteoarthritis Diagnosis

In diagnosing knee osteoarthritis, your doctor will want to rule out other conditions that could be causing your knee pain and other symptoms.

Your doctor will talk to you about when you first noticed the pain and other symptoms. He or she will ask what movements make the symptoms worse and if you've noticed that they're worse at particular times of the day. Make sure you report any injuries you have had in your knees.  The doctor may also ask what you've been doing to deal with the pain.

Physical Exam: This is where your doctor examines how well your knee joint is working. How far can you move it (your range of motion)? How well can you walk? Are there certain movements that cause, increase, or decrease pain? As part of the physical exam, the doctor may also test your reflexes and muscle strength.  He or she may also check for swelling.

Imaging Tests: An x-ray can help your doctor confirm knee osteoarthritis because it shows the bones in your knee joint. Looking at that, he or she can see if you have developed bone spurs, which develop when bones start to rub on each other.

An x-ray can also show the doctor if your joint space has narrowed, a sign that you've lost cartilage.  You may also have an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging test). This shows the soft tissues of the joint.  It can be used to determine how much of your cartilage is worn away, but often plain x-rays are good enough and an MRI is notnecessary.

Blood Tests:To help confirm osteoarthritis, your doctor may order a blood test to rule out rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which can look like osteoarthritis. Since RA is caused by an immune system disorder, a blood test can help reveal this.  Otherwise, blood tests are not needed to diagnose knee osteoarthritis.

Updated on: 11/17/15
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Knee Osteoarthritis Diagnosis