How Do I Know if My Knee Pain Is Arthritis?

Medically Reviewed on 1/12/2022
If you have knee pain from arthritis you might notice symptoms including stiffness and swelling, increased pain and swelling in the morning or after sitting, increased pain after activity, 'locking' or 'sticking' of the knee, and weakness or buckling in the knee.
If you have knee pain from arthritis you might notice symptoms including stiffness and swelling, increased pain and swelling in the morning or after sitting, increased pain after activity, 'locking' or 'sticking' of the knee, and weakness or buckling in the knee.

If you have knee pain that doesn't go away with time, you might have arthritis. This condition occurs when the protective cartilage that covers the ends of the bones in a joint starts to wear away. The result is bone grinding against bone, which is very painful. Arthritis is one of the most common causes of knee pain, especially in people over 50 years old.

Symptoms of arthritis in the knee

The main symptoms of arthritis are joint pain and swelling. Early symptoms may be mild. Arthritis gets worse over time, though, and symptoms become more significant.

If you have arthritis, you might notice symptoms, including:

  • Stiffness and swelling of the knee making it difficult to bend and straighten the joint
  • Increased pain and swelling in the morning or after sitting or resting
  • Increased pain after activity
  • A sensation of "locking" or "sticking" when moving the knee
  • Weakness or buckling in the knee

Types of arthritis


Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of arthritis pain in the knee. Wear and tear on the cartilage is what leads to this painful condition. When the protective tissue wears away, the ends of the bone rub against each other. This can cause pain from friction, and painful bone spurs can develop. Osteoarthritis usually appears in those over the age of 50.

Rheumatoid arthritis

This is an autoimmune condition that causes the body to attack its own tissue. The membranes around the knee joints will swell and cause pain and stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis is symmetrical, meaning it will affect both knees at the same time.

Posttraumatic arthritis

Injuries can lead to arthritis. Sometimes, the symptoms appear shortly after the original injury. In other cases, the injury leads to damage that worsens and develops into arthritis over time.

Other causes of knee pain

Sprain or strain to the knee

Injuries to the muscles and ligaments in the knee can lead to pain. Strains and sprains are often due to twisting your knee or a blow to the knee. Falling can lead to knee injuries like this. The symptoms of a sprain or strain include pain, swelling, and difficulty in walking.


The tendons in your knee can get inflamed and painful. This is typically a result of over-use injuries. Activities like cycling, running, and jumping can be the cause of tendonitis. The symptoms include pain, particularly when you are using the knee in a way that aggravates inflamed tendons.

Cartilage damage

The cartilage in your knee protects the ends of the bones and provides stability to the joint. If you have a knee injury, you might do damage to the cartilage and cause additional pain and swelling in the area.

Diagnosing arthritis in the knee

To understand the cause of your knee pain, your doctor will give you a physical exam and ask about any injuries you might have. Your doctor will also need to see the bones, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage inside your knee. Your doctor may order imaging such as:

You might also need arthroscopy. This is a procedure where your doctor inserts a small camera into the joint. The camera projects an image of the inside of the knee onto a screen so your doctor can see what's causing your pain.


Medically speaking, the term "myalgia" refers to what type of pain? See Answer

Treating arthritis of the knee

There is no cure for arthritis, but there are things you can do to manage the symptoms.

Lifestyle modifications

Your doctor may suggest reducing activities that aggravate knee pain, such as high-impact exercises like jogging, tennis, or basketball. You can switch to activities such as cycling or swimming to reduce strain on your knees. Losing weight can also improve wear and tear on your knees.

Physical therapy

A physical therapist can help you strengthen the muscles in your leg so they can support your knee more thoroughly. Other exercises can increase range of motion and flexibility in the joint.

Assistive devices

Knee braces can give support to aching knees and reduce pain from daily activities. A support device such as a cane or walker can help you redistribute your weight to take pressure off your knee. Shoes with custom orthotics can improve knee pain and make you more comfortable.

Pain medication

There is a wide range of options for managing pain, including over-the-counter pain medicines and prescription medications. Your doctor can suggest which drugs are best for reducing pain and swelling. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor might prescribe medications such as methotrexate, sulfasalazine, and hydroxychloroquine to manage the overactive immune responses causing your knee pain. Steroid injections can relieve symptoms for longer periods of time, though they eventually wear off.


If less invasive treatments don't control arthritis pain enough, there are surgical options, including:

  • Cartilage grafting: replacing damaged cartilage with cartilage from another part of your body
  • Synovectomy: removing the inflamed tissue that lines the joint
  • Osteotomy: reshaping the bones to relieve pressure and friction
  • Total or partial knee replacement: replacing some or all of the bones in your knee with an artificial joint

Talk to your doctor about the best treatment for your arthritis.

Medically Reviewed on 1/12/2022
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: "Arthritis of the Knee."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Knee Pain and Problems."