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Managing Knee Arthritis

Alan H. Klein, MD

There are three different types of arthritis that can affect the knee, with the most common being osteoarthritis, or arthritis from wear and tear. In fact, more than 27 million people in the United States have some form of osteoarthritis. Learn how UPMC’s orthopaedic specialists treat each patient with a comprehensive, individualized approach to knee arthritis.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms vary for each patient but often include:

  • Pain and swelling that increases when active
  • A feeling of warmth in the joint
  • Stiffness in the knee, especially in the morning or after a long period of sitting
  • A decrease in mobility
  • A cracking sound when moving the knee

Evaluation

When a patient comes to us with knee pain, our first step is to conduct a thorough evaluation. We believe in evaluating the whole body, not just the knee, which helps to identify any other medical conditions that could impact treatment. It also helps us understand the patients’ goals and activity level, important considerations when developing a treatment plan. The physical exam allows us to identify any abnormalities, swelling or fluid in the joints, range of motion, and muscle strength. Diagnostic tests are also often part of the evaluation and can include x-ray, MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound.

Treatment

Osteoarthritis of the knee is often first treated with a non-operative treatment plan. This could include home exercises, structured physical therapy, bracing, walking aids, injection therapy with cortisone, over-the-counter or perception medication, or weight loss. The patient must understand that there is no cure for arthritis. Rather, we will find ways to help the patient manage symptoms through activity modification or recommendations on proper footwear.

If the patient does not respond to non-operative treatment, or other conservative methods have failed to address the symptoms and alleviate pain, surgical treatment is likely the next step. This may include minimally invasive arthroscopic techniques, which are somewhat limited in efficacy for arthritis. Other surgical options include an osteotomy, which is a procedure to realign the limb. Some patients will be a candidate for partial knee replacement. However, this is usually reserved for patients with severe knee arthritis when other treatments have failed.

Follow-up and Prognosis

Postoperative physical and occupational therapy will help the patient regain range of motion and restore their independence. The social services team works to ensure a seamless transition from hospital to home, including arrangements for home health care if necessary. This could include a nurse, physical therapist, and home health equipment. Other patients may require inpatient rehabilitation or a stay in a skilled nursing facility following joint replacement.

The physicians at Orthopaedic Specialists—UPMC are committed to helping patients with knee arthritis find a pain-free tomorrow. To schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, please call 1-877-471-0935.

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