Condition: Knee osteoarthritis (OA) is a painful disease of the joint that results from “wear and tear” of the bones and cartilage.
Background: One in four Americans over the age of 45 suffer from OA. Worldwide, OA is a common cause of disability.
Risk Factors: Advanced age is most commonly associated with developing OA. Other important risk factors include obesity, female gender, ethnicity, genetic predisposition, and prior trauma/injury.
History and Symptoms: Patients with knee OA frequently experience pain of gradual onset and morning stiffness lasting less than 30 minutes. Other associated symptoms may include knee clicking, a reduced ability to bend the joint, and changes in the appearance of the knee. Symptoms may worsen over time.
Physical Exam: Your physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) physician will perform an evaluation of your knee that may include the following:
1) Inspection for abnormalities such as skin discoloration, swelling, size, and alignment.
2) Pressing different regions to assess for tenderness.
3) Bending and straightening of the joint.
4) Strength testing of muscles in the area.
5) Special physical exam tests to better determine the origin of pain.
Diagnostic Process: X-rays are commonly used to evaluate the severity of knee OA. Other imaging methods that aid in providing a clear diagnosis include ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Your PM&R physician may have advanced training in performing in-office ultrasound. Some patients may require draining of joint fluid or blood testing.
Rehab Management: PM&R physicians use a comprehensive and collaborative approach to managing knee OA. Your rehabilitation may include 1) a physical therapy program that provides education on exercise and activity modification, 2) a healthy nutritional program to encourage weight loss, 3) oral medications, and 4) joint injections. Often, multiple healthcare professionals (your PM&R physician, and physical therapy staff) are involved in your care.
Other Resources for Patients and Families: Weight loss and exercise programs may be helpful for patients and families.