Early Signs of Arthritis in the Knee

Medically Reviewed on 12/17/2020
Arthritis refers to the redness and swelling of the joints.
Arthritis refers to the redness and swelling of the joints.

Arthritis refers to the redness and swelling of the joints. It usually develops slowly over 10 to 15 years, interfering with daily life activities. Knowing the early signs of arthritis can help you take appropriate treatment and incorporate modifications in your diet and lifestyle.

The knee joint is the largest and the most complex joint in the body. Depending on the cause, the early signs and symptoms of arthritis in the knee joint may vary amongst individuals. Typically, these include:

  • Pain while climbing stairs or walking
  • Joint stiffness after sitting for prolonged periods with bended knees
  • Difficulty in straightening the knee after getting up in the morning
  • Swelling over the knees that gets worse on walking
  • Bones in the knee joint rub against each other giving rise to the sound of creaking, clicking or snapping, or grinding
  • Many people with arthritis experience increased joint pain during rainy weather

What causes arthritis in the knee?

All kinds of arthritis are characterized by wear and tear of the cartilage followed by a reduction in the joint space.

Three types of arthritis affect the knee mainly:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA): This type of arthritis is also known as degenerative joint disease, primary OA, wear-and-tear arthritis, or age-related arthritis. It is a leading cause of disability in the United States and worldwide. Though more common in older people, it can affect young people, including children as well.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): This is an autoimmune and chronic kind of arthritis that affects multiple joints in the body. Autoimmune means the body attacks its own healthy cells. Over time, the inflammation causes degeneration of cartilage along with the softening of the bone.
  • Posttraumatic arthritis: This kind of arthritis is preceded by a traumatic event that impacts the knee joint. The injury damages the knee and arthritis develops after a few to several years in the knee joint.

Factors that increase your risk for developing osteoarthritis include:

  • Old age
  • Overweight or obesity (every pound, 0.45 kg, of weight gained adds 2 lbs to 4 lbs, 0.9-1.8 kg, of extra pressure on one’s knees)
  • A family history of arthritis
  • Aggressive workouts/sports


What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)? Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis See Slideshow

How is arthritis in the knee diagnosed?

The doctor will diagnose arthritis by performing a physical examination of your knees and taking your medical history.

Imaging tests are needed to confirm arthritis. These include:

  • X-rays: X-rays of the knee joint give a detailed image of the cartilage, the bone surfaces and the joint space, and the formation of bone spurs (osteophytes).
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or a computed tomography (CT) scan: These tests provide a more detailed version than the X-ray in determining the health of the knee joint.
  • Blood tests: Certain blood tests help to distinguish rheumatoid arthritis from osteoarthritis.

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Medically Reviewed on 12/17/2020
Lozada CJ. Osteoarthritis. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/330487-overview

Lespasio MJ, Piuzzi NS, Husni ME, et al. Knee Osteoarthritis: A Primer. Perm J. Published online September 13, 2017. doi: 10.7812/TPP/16-183.

Kessler CS, Dhiman KS, Kumar A, et al. Effectiveness of an Ayurveda Treatment Approach in Knee Osteoarthritis - A Randomized Controlled Trial. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. Published online February 7, 2018. doi: 10.1016/j.joca.2018.01.022