Understanding Knee Osteoarthritis: A Sports Medicine Specialist’s Guide

What is Knee Osteoarthritis?

Knee osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that affects millions globally, leading to pain, stiffness, and a diminished quality of life.

It is caused by the breakdown of the protective cartilage in the knee joint, which cushions the ends of bones and enables smooth joint movements. As the cartilage deteriorates, the bones begin to rub against each other, causing pain, swelling, and difficulty in movement.

It predominantly affects individuals in their middle to late adulthood, although younger people can also be affected, especially if they have a history of knee injuries.

Causes and Risk Factors

Age: The risk of developing knee osteoarthritis increases with age, as the wear and tear on the knee joints accumulate over the years, leading to the gradual degradation of cartilage.

Gender: Women are more likely to develop this condition, especially after the age of 50. This is due to the hormonal differences between men and women.

Obesity: Excess body weight puts additional pressure on the knee joints, thus accelerating the wear and tear process of cartilage.

Genetics: Individuals with a family history of knee osteoarthritis are at a higher risk of developing the condition.

Joint Injuries: Individuals with knee injuries, such as those sustained in sports or accidents, are at a higher risk because damaged joints are still susceptible to osteoarthritis even after healing.

While some factors like genetics cannot be altered, others, such as obesity and joint injuries, can be addressed through lifestyle changes and preventive measures.

Symptoms of Knee Osteoarthritis

The symptoms of knee osteoarthritis can vary in intensity and may develop gradually over time.

Knee Pain: Pain in the knee during or after movement is one of the most common symptoms. The pain may worsen following prolonged activity but typically improves with rest.

Swelling and Tenderness: Swelling and tenderness in the knee area may occur, especially after extended periods of activity, due to inflammation within the joint.

Limited Movement: The knee may not be able to move through its full range of motion, and individuals might experience difficulty in bending or straightening their knees.

Crepitus: Crepitus is where a grating sensation or the sound of bone rubbing against bone can be felt when moving the knee.


The diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis involves a combination of clinical evaluation and imaging studies. A thorough assessment is required, which includes a discussion about symptoms, their onset, and how they’ve progressed over time.

This will be followed by a physical examination of the knee’s range of motion as well as the presence of swelling, tenderness, and signs of knee joint changes.

Imaging tests such as X-rays and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) can help to visualise the extent of the cartilage loss and reveal bone spurs around a joint.

In some cases, laboratory tests may be conducted to rule out other conditions that can mimic the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, by analysing the levels of certain markers in the blood or fluid from the joint.

Treatment Options

The choice of treatment for knee osteoarthritis depends on the severity of symptoms and the individual’s overall health. A multidisciplinary approach involving a sports medicine specialist and other healthcare professionals is usually recommended.

Minimally Invasive Treatments

Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy:
PRP therapy involves injecting a concentration of the patient’s platelets into the knee. This promotes natural healing and reduces inflammation by utilising growth factors found in the platelets. It alleviates pain and improves joint function.

Viscosupplementation involves injecting hyaluronic acid directly into the knee joint to mimic the fluid that naturally lubricates the joint. It improves mobility and reduces pain by decreasing friction and wear in the arthritic joint.

Non-Invasive/Non-Surgical Treatments

Radio-frequency Therapy:
This therapy utilises heat generated by radio waves to target and treat the nerves around the knee joint responsible for pain transmission. It can help to manage the pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis and enhance joint mobility.

Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT):
This treatment method uses low-level light to stimulate healing and reduce inflammation. LLLT can enhance tissue repair, improve circulation, and stimulate the regeneration of cells, leading to decreased pain in the knee joint affected by osteoarthritis.

When You Should See A Sports Medicine Specialist

Sports medicine specialists play an important role in the care of individuals with knee osteoarthritis. Our expertise in musculoskeletal disorders, combined with a focus on physical activity and sports-related injuries, allows us to manage this condition from both a preventive and therapeutic perspective.

We can provide you with customised treatment plans that balance the need for joint protection with the desire to maintain an active lifestyle, incorporating medication, physical therapy, and activity modification.

If you’re experiencing persistent knee pain, stiffness, or limited mobility that affects your daily activities, consult our clinic for an appointment today.