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Managing the diagnosis of osteoarthritis of the knee

Unloader OneOsteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, with an estimated 27 million sufferers in the USA alone. It is a condition where the natural cushioning between various joints wears away, thus it is often known as the wear and tear arthritis. When the cushioning, or cartilage, is worn away, it increases the likelihood of joint bones rubbing together, causing osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis of the knee is the most common area of the body to be affected by this wear and tear form of arthritis. In many ways, this makes sense, since the knee comes under a lot of pressure in daily life. When the joints that are supposed to provide knee support are affected, it can cause a wide range of symptoms.

Who is affected?

If someone suspects they have developed osteoarthritis of the knee, then a visit to their GP can help to establish a diagnosis. The chances of developing this debilitating condition increases with age, especially after 45 years, so age will be one of the biggest factors taken into consideration before a diagnosis is normally made. Having said that, young people can still get osteoarthritis of the knee, but it is much less common.

Common causes of OA

Other factors that increase the likelihood of osteoarthritis of the knee occurring include if you are female (it is more common in women), if you are overweight (as this puts extra pressure on the knees), if there are any incidences of osteoarthritis in the family, if you have another type of joint disease (such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis) and if you have suffered a previous joint injury or infection. Prior damage to the knee joint can increase the risk of osteoarthritis developing in later life. Repetitive stress to the knee, such as regular actions or motions undertaken during a job or sports activity can also weaken the joints offering knee support.

As well as assessing the risk factors, a doctor will help form a diagnosis based on the range of symptoms that might be displayed. Typical symptoms include pain on movement of the knee, stiffness, hard or soft swellings, feeling less stable when using the knee and a crunching or creaking sensation when the joint is moved. Some sufferers find their symptoms come and go, or may be worse when the weather is damp.

Methods of diagnosis

There is no one single test to diagnose osteoarthritis of the knee, so risk factors and symptoms are assessed, together with a physical examination. Your doctor will look to see if there are any bony growths on the knee, any swelling or creaking sensations, as well as how stable the joint appears and how easy it moves.

In some cases, your doctor may decide to refer you for an X-ray. This can help to determine if there is any reduced space between the knee joints as a result of cartilage loss. An X-ray may also show if there is any extra bone growth or unusual appearances on the surface of the joint, as well as calcification of the cartilage. Blood tests may also be taken to rule out other conditions.

Whilst osteoarthritis of the knee can be very painful and there is no cure, fortunately there are different forms of treatment that can be used by sufferers to assist with relieving symptoms.