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Rheumatoid Arthritis in the Knee

  • Oct 3 2019

Is it possible to have rheumatoid arthritis in the knee or is it always osteoarthritis?

When someone is diagnosed with arthritis in the knee, we generally assume that it is osteoarthritis, and, most of the time, this is correct. Not always, though. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects joints throughout the body, including the knees. 

While osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease in which the cartilage in the joints is broken down over time with the wear and tear that comes from a lifetime of movement, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that some malfunction in the immune system results in the body attacking its own tissue. Both are chronic and continue to worsen with time, and both can be debilitating. 

Rheumatoid arthritis attacks multiple joints throughout the body. One of the ways that it is different from other types of arthritis is that it is what is known as a symmetrical condition because it typically affects both sides of the body at the same time. If someone has rheumatoid arthritis in one knee it will almost always be in the other knee, also. This is true not only for the knees but also for hips, shoulders and other joints that have a right and left joint.  

The most common place for rheumatoid arthritis to appear is in the joints. In the knee joint, RA results in the swelling of the synovial membrane which wraps around the knee joint, leading to pain and stiffness. In time, the tissue in and around the joints can be permanently damaged by the immune system’s attacks, resulting in bone loss and deformities. Because rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease, it is not confined only to joints: RA affects various other parts of the body, like the skin, lungs, heart, blood vessels and even the eyes. 

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

While there is currently no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, research is ongoing. Complicating the search for a cure is the fact that the disease presents differently from one person to the next. Symptoms can be different, as can the intensity, duration and patterns of remission. That said, some of the more common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Pain: although RA can go into remission and the pain disappears, while the inflammation of the joint is present there is usually consistent pain, sometimes severe, with or without movement
  • Swelling: fluid builds up inside the joint resulting in the often constant presence of swelling 
  • Stiffness: one of the hallmarks of rheumatoid arthritis in the knees is the severity of stiffness and the length of time that it can take for the joints to become moveable, especially first thing in the morning
  • Range of motion: RA can significantly limit range of motion
  • Color and temperature: a joint that is affected by rheumatoid arthritis is often warm to the touch and may have a reddish, mottled appearance, which gets better or worse depending on the amount of inflammation

Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Learning that you have rheumatoid arthritis in your knees can come as a significant blow. In addition to it being a chronic and often painful disease, it is one of the “invisible” ones. People around those affected by RA can’t see it and may even discount whether there is really anything wrong. This can result in feelings of isolation and even depression. 

It is important to know that there are treatment options available to help lessen and manage the symptoms. Early diagnosis is key, so make sure that you contact your healthcare professional at the first indication that there may be a problem.

If you have questions about arthritis in the knee or any other orthopedic concerns, the physicians and staff of South Island Orthopedics are very experienced in a wide range of orthopedic conditions and are committed to providing personalized care in a state-of-the-art facility. To schedule an appointment, or if you just have questions, please use our convenient online contact form by clicking here

Posted in: Rheumatoid Arthritis