Osteoarthritis Knee Pain

Author: Chloe Wilson - BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy

Osteoarthritis knee pain usually comes on gradually over a number of years.  It is caused by thinning and "wear and tear" of the knee cartilage and bones.  It affects more than 1 in 10 people.

The symptoms of arthritis vary from person to person and the disease progresses at different rates in different people. 

Knee osteoarthritis can be classified into three different stages, mild, moderate and severe.  Often mild arthritis will stay at that level, however, sometimes it progresses. 

Here we will look at how the different stages of knee osteoarthritis are classified, how they differ from each other and the common symptoms at each stage.  To find out more about arthritis, including symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options, visit the knee arthritis guide.

Stages of Osteoarthritis Knee Pain

There are two ways of categorising osteoarthritis knee pain:

Osteoarthritis knee pain is caused by changes in the bone and cartilage lining the knee joint.  Here you can see the difference between and healthy and arthritic knee

1) X-ray Findings: the level of cartilage & bone degeneration found on x-ray
2) Symptoms: the level of arthritis knee pain a person experiences

Surprisingly, there is often very little correlation between the two. Some people demonstrate advanced arthritis on x-ray but have minimal symptoms, whereas other people suffering from a great deal of osteoarthritis knee pain may only show mild changes on x-ray. It is much more important to concentrate on your symptoms, rather than what your x-ray shows.

1) Mild Arthritis

The technical term for this stage is Early Degenerative Changes. In the early stages of osteoarthritis of the knee, there may be no significant symptoms at all.

Symptoms usually start with a generalised ache around the knee and stiffness, especially after prolonged periods in one position e.g. after sitting, when getting up in the morning or after lots of exercise. People often get pain when going down stairs or getting up from a chair.  

X-rays will usually show minimal changes to the bone and cartilage.  There are a number of treatment options that can help reduce symptoms and stop progression of the disease at this stage.

2) Moderate Arthritis

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Our new Knee Arthritis Book is out in paperback or for instant download on your Kindle.  Knee Arthritis: Take Back Control: From Exercises To Knee Replacements & Everything In Between

Top tips, exercises and loads more. Paperback or Kindle.

Find Out More

Read Reviews/ Buy Now

The technical term for this stage is Moderately Advanced Arthritis. The knee may start to swell and/or stiffen. It may not be able to bend and straighten fully and sometimes the joint starts to make funny noises e.g. creaking or cracking noises.

X-rays will often show narrowing of the joint space (the gap between the bones) and loss of the smooth surface of the bones with some osteophyte formation - bony knee spurs.

Again, there are a whole range of treatment options including specially designed knee braces, injections and exercises that can help at this stage - visit the arthritis treatment section to find out more.

3) Severe Arthritis

The technical term for this stage is Advanced Arthritis. Arthritis knee pain can end up so severe that normal daily activities such as walking and going down stairs become extremely painful and difficult.

With severe knee osteoarthritis, often the best course of action is a knee replacement

X-rays may show complete loss of joint space with a number of osteophytes.  This leads to bone rubbing on bone which causes pain and limits movement.

The knee can also become deformed. When this happens, the best course of action for osteoarthritis knee pain is usually a knee replacement.

For hints and tips on overcoming osteoarthritis knee pain or for more information on how to tell if you have arthritis of the knee, visit these sections:


Arthritis Book: Everything you need to know in a handy book
Arthritis Overview:
Introduction to Arthritis
Causes: What causes arthritis?
Symptoms & Diagnosis: The symptoms of OA and how is it diagnosed
Treatment Options: Whole range of ways to treat arthritis knee pain
Diet For Arthritis:  Which foods to avoid and which foods can help
Knee Replacements: Replacing an arthritic knee with a new one

Go to Arthritis Guide or Knee Pain Guide

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