Osteoarthritis of the Knee | Symptoms, Causes, Treatments & Exercises

What Exactly is Knee Osteoarthritis?

Are you dealing with uncomfortable pain in your knee? You very well could be experiencing osteoarthritis of the knee. You may have heard of or even experienced arthritis at some point in your life. Normally occurring in older adults, it affects millions of people each year. Arthritis can be found in the hands, knees, hips, and spine, in this case, we are talking about Osteoarthritis of the knee.

The condition of Osteoarthritis is commonly known as wear-and-tear arthritis. There are four stages of this disease; throughout the four stages, the cushioning between joints, known as cartilage, wears away. To be specific, the top layer of cartilage breaks down and wears away allowing the bones under the cartilage to rub together causing pain, swelling, loss of motion in the joint, and can lead to the formation of bone spurs.

There are three compartments of the knee: medial compartment, lateral compartment, and patellofemoral compartment. Any of these compartment areas may be affected by osteoarthritis. Once Osteoarthritis starts to take its place and gets further into the four stages, your joint may start to lose its normal shape. Bone spurs will start to grow together and bits of bone or cartilage will break off and float inside the joint space creating more pain and damage to the knee.

Although there is unfortunately no cure for osteoarthritis, in the following article, you will learn more about signs, symptoms, and treatments to manage the disease. BraceAbility offers a many comfortable and affordable braces to help ease your pain of osteoarthritis. Knee joint pain can affect many people; to learn more about osteoarthritis, check out BraceAbility’s Knee Joint Pain blog for different causes and treatments of osteoarthritis. 

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Knee Osteoarthritis?

There are many signs and symptoms you may be experiencing when you have knee osteoarthritis. They may depend on the stage and severity of your pain, some may include:

●      Stiffness in the joint, it may be worse in the morning, or after resting or sitting for a long period of time

●      Swelling or tenderness of the knee area

●      Pain that increases with exercise or being active, feels better when resting

●      Weakness or buckling in the knee

●      Feeling of warmth in the joint

●      Knee may lock or stick, making a creaking, snapping sound

●      May be difficult to bend or straighten the knee

●      Everyday activities may seem difficult (climbing stairs, walking, getting out of a chair or car)

In order to diagnose, you will need a physical exam by your doctor. Make sure to explain which of these symptoms you are experiencing. Also, it may be a good idea to figure out if anyone has arthritis in your family. Once you have determined you have osteoarthritis of the knee, you can figure out what stage you are at and what treatments will be most effective.

Below is a graphic to help you in determining what stage you are in.

learn about the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis during each stage

What stage of Knee Osteoarthritis am I experiencing?

Osteoarthritis is classified into four stages of symptoms that you could possibly be experiencing. Stage 1 being the least severe and stage 4 the most serious and severe of them all.

Knee Osteoarthritis Stage 1

This stage is the least severe stage and indicates a minor bone spur growth in the knee. A minor bone spur growth consists of the bony growth that develops where bones meet each other in joints.

●      No pain or discomfort is experienced

Knee Osteoarthritis Stage 2

This stage is a more mild stage where you may start to experience some symptoms of osteoarthritis. Stage 2 consists of:

●      Greater bone spur growth starts to occur

●      Cartilage remains a healthy size (the space between your bones is normal)

●      Bones are not rubbing or scraping each other

●      Synovial fluid is still present allowing for normal joint movement

●      May notice pain after walking or running, stiffness in joints after relaxing for a long period, or tenderness when kneeling and bending.

Knee Osteoarthritis Stage 3

This stage describes moderate osteoarthritis where patients start to encounter discomfort more often. You may be experiencing stage 3 of osteoarthritis if you notice:

●      Frequent pain in the knee when walking, running, bending or kneeling

●      Knee joint stiffness occurs after sitting for an extended time and joints swell after long periods of mobility

●      Cartilage between bones starts to show obvious damage and the space between bones is narrowing

Knee Osteoarthritis Stage 4

 This stage is known as the most severe stage of osteoarthritis, the joint space between the bones is dramatically reducing. The cartilage is becoming almost non-existent, and pain is practically constant. When dealing with stage 4 you may: 

●      Experience great pain and discomfort when walking or moving the knee joint

●      Total knee replacement is a last resort possibility for most patients with severe OA of the knee

●      Read more information about Total Knee Replacement

What are the Causes of Knee Osteoarthritis? Who Typically Gets it?

There are two types of causes of knee osteoarthritis, these being primary and secondary. Primary Knee Osteoarthritis is known as the general “wear and tear” of the knee joints over the years. This type of osteoarthritis is most commonly diagnosed in individuals ages 55-60 and has been found to be associated and caused by aging. This is because the longer you use your joints, the more likely you are to form osteoarthritis from overuse and wear and tear of the knee joints. Experts claim that as generations are living longer, it is probable that everyone will experience primary OA of the knee to some extent in their lifetime, whether it be mild or severe.

The other type of cause of knee osteoarthritis is Secondary Knee Osteoarthritis. This type of osteoarthritis is stemmed from a specific cause for the weakening of the joints aside from aging, such as an injury, obesity, genetics, inactivity, or other joint weakening diseases. Secondary Osteoarthritis of the knee tends to affect individuals at an earlier age, developing in individuals around 45 or 50.

Whether one is experiencing primary or secondary OA, the condition similarly occurs due to the cartilage that cushions the ends of bones in your knee joints gradually deteriorates. Cartilage is a firm, slippery tissue that allows nearly frictionless joint motion. In the case of knee osteoarthritis, the slick surface of the cartilage becomes rough and no longer frictionless. Eventually, if the cartilage wears down completely from knee osteoarthritis, one may experience their bones rubbing on bone, causing a great deal of pain for any and all knee movements due to friction.

Osteoarthritis of the knee is the most common type of arthritis that nearly everyone experiences at some point in their lifetime. While in some cases it can occur in young people, the chances of developing osteoarthritis rapidly increases after the age of 45. According to the Arthritis Foundation, more than 27 million people in the United States have OA, with the knee being one of the most commonly affected areas. The following factors increase one’s likelihood of developing knee OA:

●      Older Age: The risk of developing osteoarthritis of the knee increases after the age of 45 and is most commonly diagnosed in individuals 55-60.

●      Gender: Research has found that women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis of the knee. Women ages 55 and older are more likely to develop osteoarthritis of the knee than men.

●      Obesity: Individuals who suffer from obesity or being overweight are more likely to develop knee osteoarthritis for a number of reasons. Carrying extra body weight contributes to added stress on weight-bearing joints such as one’s knees. Additionally, fat tissue produces proteins that can potentially cause harmful inflammation in and around the knee joints. Every pound of weight you gain adds 3 to 4 pounds of extra weight on your knees.

●      Repetitive Stress Injuries: Recurring stress injuries are often a result of one’s occupation. People with particular jobs that include a lot of strenuous activity causing stress to the joints such as kneeling, squatting, or lifting heavy weights, are more likely to develop knee osteoarthritis because of the repetitive, constant pressure on the joint.

●      Athletes: Athletes or active individuals involved in soccer, tennis, or long-distance running may be at higher risk for developing osteoarthritis of the knee. One should avoid extremely strenuous activity that could lead to injury and overstress of the knee joints. It is important to note that regular exercise is still extremely important to strengthen joints to decrease the risk of knee osteoarthritis.

●      Bone Deformities: In some rare occasions, people are born with malformed joints or defective cartilage. These bone deformities can increase one’s risk of developing osteoarthritis at a young age.

●      Other Joint Weakening Diseases: Having diabetes or other rheumatic diseases such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis can greatly increase one’s risk of developing knee osteoarthritis. People with particular metabolic disorders, such as iron overload and excess growth hormones are also at higher risk of developing knee OA.

How Do Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis Differ?

Rheumatoid arthritis (also known as general arthritis) is different than osteoarthritis because of how the body reacts to your joints. Osteoarthritis is the most common and involves what normal people think of when they hear ‘arthritis’. The cartilage in the joints begins to deteriorate, causing rough moving and painful joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the tissue between the joints. Only 1.5 million Americans have this condition, but this number is expected to grow as well as the United State’s population grows older.


Joint pain is associated with soreness in moving the joints, but the difference is where the pain is occurring. Rheumatoid arthritis pain is found in the middle of joints and osteoarthritis pain is normally at the base or edge of the joint.


In addition, the pain of Rheumatoid arthritis is symmetrical on the human body, meaning, that if your left knee joint hurts, then your right knee will hurt as well. Osteoarthritis pain, however, is not symmetrical and is common for only one location in the knee to hurt. OA will also affect the spine, hips, and knees, whereas RA will attack the hips, shoulders, and ankles.


Not only is the pain different at different times in the day, but they also last and spike at different times as well. Rheumatoid arthritis is generally worse in the morning or after long rest and lack of activity. Osteoarthritis tends to get worse with activity throughout the day. What this means is that normally osteoarthritis is longer lasting, meaning longer lasting pain.

 Age of Onset

Rheumatoid arthritis usually starts between 30-50 years old, but realistically can occur at any age. Osteoarthritis occurs in the later years usually from 50 and on. However, don’t be under the misconception that rheumatoid comes first and then becomes osteoarthritis. They are completely different types of arthritis and could occur at the same time, or start at different times in your life.

How many people have Rheumatoid arthritis vs. Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis affects more than 27 million Americans as of right now. In the future, this number will dramatically increase as the number of elderly is expected to increase dramatically. Rheumatoid arthritis only has about 1.5 million diagnosed Americans, but the condition is much more painful.

What are My Treatment Options for Knee Osteoarthritis?

There are many treatment options that you can decide from or a combination of a few of them. It also may depend on how severe your OA is.

Physical/Occupational Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis

Physical or occupational therapists can help with managing your pain by showing you properly how to use your joints. Another thing they may be able to help you with is finding ways to do daily tasks without the added pressure on your joints. An example would be putting a bench in your shower to reduce the pain of standing and putting pressure on your knees. 

Medications for Knee Osteoarthritis

Another great treatment to try is pain and anti-inflammatory medications such as analgesics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, and hyaluronic acid. Something else you can try is ice and heat therapy. When you apply ice or cold compression it provides a quick pain reduction and also reduces inflammation. If you apply heat, it provides a soothing form of pain relief.

Osteoarthritis Knee Exercises

Something you can try from the comfort of your own home is osteoarthritis knee exercises. These exercises can help to strengthen the muscles around your knee and help to increase your range of motion. Below is a graphic of 8 different exercises or stretches you can do to strengthen the muscles around your knee. If you need more explanation on how to do these exercises, read our Knee Exercises and Stretches on our blog.

exercises to strengthen knee muscles and increase motion with osteoarthritis

Surgeries for Knee Osteoarthritis

A total knee replacement is your last resort, but if your doctor feels it is the best option for your osteoarthritis then the options are arthroscopy, osteotomy, and arthroplasty.

Arthroscopy: This procedure uses a small telescope and is performed through small incisions. The surgeon uses the scope to see into the joint space and then removes damaged cartilage and cleans the surface of the bone. If there is any other tissue that is damaged, that will be repaired as well. This type of procedure is often used on younger patients, usually 55 years and younger. The reason is to delay more serious surgery.

Osteotomy: This is a procedure that changes the shape of the bones to better align the knee. The surgeon cuts bone above or below the knee to shorten it, lengthen it, or change alignment.  If you have damage in one specific area of your knee, this surgery is recommended. It also can be done if you have broken your knee and it has not healed well. Keep in mind that an osteotomy is not permanent, another surgery might be necessary. 

Arthroplasty: This procedure is also known as joint replacement surgery. In this surgery, the joints are replaced with artificial parts made from either metal or plastic. This could be either one side of the knee, or it could be the whole knee needing to be replaced. Joint replacement surgery usually is for people that have severe osteoarthritis and are over 50 years old. The joint can wear out in several years and may have to be replaced again, but with modern advancements, a replaced joint could last over 20 years.

Knee Osteoarthritis Injections

Another treatment option for knee osteoarthritis is injections of corticosteroid medications. These medications help to relieve the pain in your knee joints from OA. During the injection process, your doctor will numb the area around the knee joint and place a needle into the space within your joint to inject the medication. One can only receive a limited number of cortisone shots each year, as it can worsen joint damage over time if injected too many times or too often. Another treatment option is injections of hyaluronic acid to offer pain relief and additional cushioning in your knee. Hyaluronic acid is similar to a component normally found in your joint fluid.

Weight Control for Knee Osteoarthritis

As mentioned before, carrying extra body weight contributes to added stress on weight-bearing joints such as one’s knees. In addition, fat tissue produces proteins that can potentially cause harmful inflammation in and around the knee joints. Living a healthy lifestyle and having a good, healthy attitude is a great first step in the right direction for treatment of knee osteoarthritis. Living a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition and regular exercise will not only take the extra weight and stress off your joints but also help to strengthen your joints to prevent further damage in the future.

Stage 1 Knee Osteoarthritis Treatment: No treatments are necessary for the first stage of knee osteoarthritis unless you have an increased risk due to genetics, injury, or other secondary causes of knee OA. One treatment option during the first stage is to take supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin to strengthen the joints. You can also begin exercises and live a healthier lifestyle to take the stress off joints and strengthen them as well.

Stage 2 Knee Osteoarthritis Treatment: During the second stage, it is recommended to speak to your doctor. For overweight or obese patients suffering from knee osteoarthritis, it is suggested to begin living a healthier lifestyle and exercise regularly to strengthen your joints and reduce stress. Exercises for treatment during the second stage include low-impact aerobics, strength training, or any activity that helps strengthen muscles around the joint. These exercises will also increase stability and decrease the chance of additional joint damage.

Stage 3 Knee Osteoarthritis Treatment:  If over the counter pain medications are not effective for reducing pain during the third stage, you may be prescribed pain medications such as codeine, oxycodone, or propoxyphene. These medications are not recommended for long-term used due to increased tolerance and dependency on them. Only in circumstances where nonpharmacological therapies do not work, your doctor may recommend Cortisone injections to reduce pain. Cortisone is a steroid produced naturally by the body, and it helps to relieve pain caused by knee osteoarthritis once injected near the knee.

Stage 4 Knee Osteoarthritis Treatment: During stage 4, the cartilage is becoming almost nonexistent. The best option for treatment may be bone realignment surgery, also known as an osteotomy. This will shift the weight of your body away from the points with greater bone spur growth and damage. Another surgical option during the 4th stage is a total knee replacement or arthroplasty. This procedure is last resort for extreme cases of knee osteoarthritis.

What are the Most Effective Brace Options for Knee Osteoarthritis?

BraceAbility offers the best braces for a variety of knee conditions including osteoarthritis. If the damage done to the knee progresses, the osteoarthritis can get even worse leading to more knee problems. Purchasing a knee brace can help take pressure off the part of your joint most affected by osteoarthritis and relieve pain in the knee.

The unloader knee brace offered by BraceAbility can help manage knee pain from osteoarthritis. Designed to help treat mild to severe osteoarthritis, this knee brace provides extra support and protection to the knee while ensuring mobility. This specific knee brace is made for non-contact activities - golf, walking, and everyday use.

At a more affordable price, BraceAbility offers the OA Knee Brace for osteoarthritis. It is low-profile and the best at controlling the uncomfortable pain of osteoarthritis. This lightweight knee brace helps to upload the pressure that our body puts on our knees. Side to side movement is limited with the OA knee brace, which helps to protect and support the knee to minimize pain.  

affordable low-profile lightweight oa knee brace from braceability

If you are at all experiencing any stage of osteoarthritis, talk to your doctor about purchasing a brace to help protect your damaged knee and improve your ability to move around. A knee brace is essential for reducing pain and protecting the damaged knee from further damage. It is ideal for those wanting to walk and overall be comfortable in their daily life. BraceAbility also offers a variety of other knee braces for different knee conditions one may experience. If you are unsure about what type of brace is best for you, learn about the four different types of knee braces to determine your best fit. 

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