The Four Stages of Osteoarthritis and the Treatment Options a Knee Replacement Surgeon Can Recommend

Man suffering from knee pain at home, closeup

The Four Stages of Osteoarthritis and the Treatment Options a Knee Replacement Surgeon Can Recommend

The knee, which is a weight-bearing joint, is one of the most common sites for osteoarthritis (wear-and-tear arthritis) – a progressive condition that, when not properly managed, can eventually lead to joint damage and permanent disability.

Knee osteoarthritis has four stages, each describing its progression and severity: stage 0 indicates a healthy knee while stage 4 signifies extensive knee damage. Let’s take a look at each of the stages of knee osteoarthritis and the treatment options available for it.

Stage 1: Minor Osteoarthritis

At this stage, bony projections (bone spurs) begin to form along bone edges. Cartilage also starts to wear away, although not enough to compromise the joint space.

People with stage 1 knee OA don’t usually experience any symptoms, albeit it’s possible to have some minor joint pain.

Ø Treatment Options

People with stage 1 knee OA do not usually seek treatment. If they do, their orthopedic doctor may just recommend the following:

  • Weight loss
  • Exercise
  • Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory topical creams
  • Supplements (e.g., glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate)

 Stage 2: Mild Osteoarthritis

X-rays done at this stage will reveal larger bone spurs but still an intact cartilage. As with stage 1, joint space and motion are normal.

People with stage 2 knee OA may experience the following:

  • Pain as a result of physical activity
  • Mild swelling
  • Difficulty bending or straightening the joint
  • Greater stiffness when the knee is at rest for several hours

Ø  Treatment Options

At this point, an orthopedic doctor may start to prescribe NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to alleviate the pain and swelling along with other interventions:

  • Devices like braces or wraps to decrease stress on the knee
  • Strength-training exercises so surrounding muscles can better support the joint

Stage 3: Moderate Osteoarthritis

At this stage, cartilage shows significant signs of erosion. Joint space has also become significantly narrow. Symptoms at this point are also more pronounced:

  • Joint inflammation
  • Frequent and/or intense pain during physical activity
  • Stiffness after prolonged inactivity
  • Popping sensation in the joint
  • Swelling

Ø  Treatment Options

If medications are unable to provide adequate relief, an orthopedic doctor may recommend other options:

  • Physical therapy
  • Hyaluronic acid injections
  • Corticosteroid injections

Patients with stage 3 knee OA continue to benefit from lifestyle changes and physical activity. Low-impact exercises like yoga are often a good choice. Weight loss is also beneficial, as it decreases the physical strain on the joints.

Stage 4: Severe Osteoarthritis

Severe osteoarthritis is characterized by the total breakdown of the cartilage and extensive knee damage. The significant decrease in synovial fluid levels has resulted in excruciating pain, severe swelling and stiffness, among other debilitating symptoms.

Ø Treatment Options

The recommended treatment for severe osteoarthritis is usually a knee replacement (arthroplasty). This procedure replaces the damaged joint with an artificial one made from medical-grade materials, typically plastic, metal, or ceramics. Artificial joints can last for up to fifteen years or even longer.

Knee Replacement Surgeon in Gunnison and Crested Butte, CO

No matter the severity of your knee osteoarthritis, our board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons here at gO Orthopedics can help. We carry out a thorough evaluation and offer an extensive range of cutting-edge treatment options to bring one goal to fruition: to get you Better than BeforeTM!

Book an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists today. Contact our Gunnison office at (970) 641-8899 or our Crested Butte office at (970) 349-5103.

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