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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How can I tell if my knee pain is caused by arthritis?

    I have had some niggling pain in my knee for the last 4 months and I’m wondering how I can tell if it is arthritis. Is there a way?
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    Vitali Kanevsky


    Modern, comfortable, clean and well equipped practice in Rose Bay, Sydney providing high standards of professional care, dedicated to returning you to pain-free activity.Physiotherapists are … View Profile

    Arthritis is a general term and really means wear and tear. In the knee the wear and tear is localised to the meniscal structures (the padding in between the large bones). This is a normal aging process that everyone will encounter to some degree. However, arthritic changes in the knee on their own will not necessarily be the cause of your niggling pain.

    There are many reasons for knee pain and it's impossible to give you more information without extra details. The most common cause of knee pain is simply maltracking of the kneecap (patellofemoral pain) caused usually by tightness and weakness around the knee. This is the most common knee problem we see and in clients over 40 years old there is usually some degree of arthritis in the knee as well. This arthritis is not really a contributing factor.

    You can get some idea of how much arthritic change your knee has undergone with a simple X-ray as you will be able to see how much space there is between the bones. The less the space the more wear and tear. What is observed on the X-ray DOES NOT correlate with how much pain people get or how restricted they are. Plenty of people have minimal changes on X-ray and lots of pain. And just as many have more severe changes on X-ray and minimal pain.

    You can get degenerative meniscal tears in the knee. These injuries are related the arthritic changes in the knee as the wear and tear leaves the menisus weaker. This is usually seen in those clients over 50-60 years of age. Keep in mind that you can also get meniscal tears in healthy knees with no arthritic changes.

    Treatment for these problems doesn't focus on the arthritic changes, but on eliminating the structural soft tissue strain and improving the muscular support. As people get older they can be faced with unrelenting knee pain that restricts their function and lifestyle. This is what people generally associate with an “arthritic knee”. This is caused by severe degeneration of the knee meniscus.

    With only some niggling pain you shouldn't be overyly concerned with the arthritis, however you should get the knee examined. Any knee problem can get worse over time and will restrict your function further. The earlier we can start treatment, the quicker and easier it will settle.

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