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Osteoarthritis of the knee

What is osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee?

OA is an inflammatory condition that affects joints causing pain and loss of function

Your knees, like other joints, are constantly undergoing a remodelling and repair process from the everyday stresses that are placed upon them. The majority of the time these process will go on unnoticed and you will not experience any symptoms.  At times the level of the repair occurring in the knee maybe greater than usual and you may experience pain, swelling and heat in and around the joint. This is sometimes known as a flare up which can last from around 6-12 weeks

What are the symptoms?

  • Pain felt in and around the knee joint.
  • Pain and stiffness, typically felt after periods if rest , such as first thing in the morning and tends to improve within 30 minutes
  • Swelling
  • Increased temperature.
  • Creaking or grating sounds when moving
  • Altered shape. Over the years you may notice that your knee joint appears broader.
  • Unstable knee- at times you may feel that the knee gives way

The severity of osteoarthritis symptoms can vary greatly from person to person and with time.

What are the causes?

People often think that OA is mainly related to age, but this is not correct and there are many other factors that can contribute to OA, such as:

  • Being over weight
  • Previous injury or surgery to the knee
  • Being female
  • Aged over 50
  • Smoking
  • Having a history of gout or Rheumatoid arthritis in the joint
  • Having a family history

What can I do to help myself?

  • Try to lose weight if you are overweight. Losing even a small amount of weight can reduce the strain on the joint.
  • Use painkillers. They will reduce your pain, allowing you to remain active. National guidelines recommend trying paracetamol and an Anti-Inflammatory gel to begin with. If you are not sure if you can use these or they don’t seem to be working speak to GP.
  • Apply an ice pack to the affected area. This is especially useful if you are experiencing a flare up and the knee seems warm or swollen. Ensure you wrap the ice in a towel and check the skin regularly to check for ice burns.
  • Try to spread your physical activities evenly over the day and week, rather than in big chunks.
  • Try placing a pillow between your knees whilst in bed.
  • Stop smoking
  • Do some regular mobility and strenghtening exercises. We have included some for you to try 

Easy OA Knee Exercises

Moderate OA knee

Advanced OA Knee exercises

  • Self-refer yourself to see a physiotherapist if you are still struggling having tried the above advice

What will physiotherapy do?

A physiotherapist with take a thorough history of your symptoms and will conduct a physical examination of the area to confirm the diagnosis.

The main aim of physiotherapy is to restore strength and function to the knee. Treatment will be based on active rehabilitation, focusing on strength and flexibility.

Your physiotherapist will create an individual exercise programme to address your individual needs. 

You may be given the option to attend an exercise class.

Corticosteroid injections can be helpful for pain management but will not resolve the underlying cause of the problem. They should only be used after everything else has been tried. This can be discussed with your GP or physiotherapist. Due to the current coronavirus pandemic we will not be offering injections until further notice.

Acupuncture, electrotherapy and massage have not been shown to be helpful for knee OA and therefore are not offered.





Symptoms to check

Click the plus sign to see a list of problems that could be a sign you may need to be checked urgently

Get advice from 111 now if:

  • your knee is very painful and you cannot put any weight on it
  • you have direct injury to the knee and it has become very swollen very quickly (within 60 minutes)
  • your knee is badly swollen or has changed shape
  • you have a very high temperature, feel hot and shivery, and have redness or heat around the knee – this can be a sign of infection

111 will tell you what to do. They can tell you the right place to get help if you need to see someone.

Go to 111.nhs.uk or call 111.

Immediate medical advice is available by contacting NHS 111

Exercises & Resources area

Exercises & Resources

If you already have a diagnosis from a medical professional you may find some of the following links more helpful


Referral Information

If your knee pain persists, or you are not sure what to do you can self-refer to see a local physiotherapist who can help you with your problem