Osteoarthritis of the knee

This information may be useful for those who have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the knee.  People who are experiencing new or ongoing symptoms should contact their healthcare professional.  

Read about advice on dealing with a knee problem

What is Osteoarthritis?  

Osteoarthritis is a common condition which can affect any joint in the body. 

When a joint develops osteoarthritis, part of the cartilage thins and the surface becomes rougher (sometimes called wear and tear).  This means the joint doesn’t move as smoothly as it should.    

Read more about osteoarthritis

What causes osteoarthritis of the knee?  

The exact cause of osteoarthritis is unknown, however it’s likely that a combination of factors may contribute.

The likelihood of developing osteoarthritis in the knee can be increased by  

  • normal age related changes.  
  • a previous injury in the area.  
  • repetitive activities and physical jobs.   
  • inheriting certain genetics from your parents.  
  • being overweight.  

What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee?  

These can vary from person to person.

People may experience some or all of these symptoms including:

  • joint pain that can be worse when moving or doing activities.  
  • stiffness in the knee, often in the morning or after resting.
  • swelling in the joint.
  • weakness in the thigh muscle.  
  • feeling the knee giving way during walking or weight-bearing.  
  • creaking, grating and crunching noises as you move.  

How is osteoarthritis of the knee diagnosed

In order for osteoarthritis of the knee to be diagnosed you will need an assessment from a healthcare professional.

They’ll initially ask you questions about your knee issue and then carry out a physical examination. This will include checking your range of movement and strength.

An x-ray of the knee is sometimes used to help diagnosis. You may sometimes need to have a further examination to rule out other possible health conditions.

How is osteoarthritis of the knee treated?

While there is no cure for osteoarthritis, the condition can be successfully self-managed in a number of cases.  

Osteoarthritis of the knee can range in severity; some people can have significant changes shown on an x-ray with mild symptoms and others can have severe symptoms with little physical change.

For both cases, and those in between, treatment would begin with the same approach. Keeping the joint active is the best way to manage your symptoms.

You can manage your symptoms by:

  • pacing your activities throughout the day. 
  • adapt activities which increase your pain or you find difficult.  
  • wearing supportive footwear with cushioned soles and avoiding high heels.  
  • avoiding sitting in one position for long periods.  

Strengthening muscles around your knee will help manage symptoms. 

Read more about exercises for osteoarthritis of the knee

Walking aids/use of handrails  

When climbing stairs consider using a handrail until your muscles become stronger. 

If going upstairs lead with the unaffected leg.  If going downstairs lead with the affected leg. 

A walking stick may be beneficial, if using, ensure it’s used on the opposite side from your affected leg.  

If you feel a walking aid would be beneficial you should contact your healthcare professional for advice.

Pain treatments

Pain medication – this can help you move more comfortably, which can help your recovery

More about taking painkillers

Read about treating with ice or heat


In some cases, surgery may be required if all other treatment options have been tried.

If you’re waiting on surgery it’s still important to maintain movement in your knee using the management advice above as this will help your recovery.

Read more about what you can do while awaiting knee surgery


Osteoarthritis can sometimes mean you need to take some time off work to help recovery. How long you’re off will depend on the nature of your condition and your role at work.

You do not need to be symptom free before you consider returning to work. Continuing to go to work, or returning to work as soon as is possible for you, will help your recovery. Gradually getting back to your normal daily activities can help to build up your strength and stamina levels.

Help and support 

Following this advice, you should see gradual improvements over time.

If your osteoarthritis hasn’t improved within 6 weeks, or it’s got worse, after following this advice, talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms.

Read about how to access MSK services

When dealing with any health condition it’s important to also look after your mental wellbeing as this can impact your recovery.

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Source: MSK Expert Panel - Opens in new browser window

Last updated:
16 June 2023