Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most frequently diagnosed type of arthritis, with more than 27 million Americans suffering from the joint disease. OA is devastating to individual quality of life and even to the economy. Along with the hips and hands, knees are one of the primary areas of the body impacted by osteoarthritis.

In the case of knee osteoarthritis, beyond knee pain and reduction in joint function, the disease can lead to:

·      Disability

·      Reduced productivity in the workplace

·      Artificial joint operations

·      High health costs to society.

Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that this knee pain disorder is on the rise. “Public health data show that the prevalence, health impact, and economic consequences of osteoarthritis are expected to increase dramatically during the next couple of decades,” reports the agency. “Approximately 1 in 2 people may develop symptomatic knee OA in their lifetime.”

The three stages of osteoarthritis

There are three basic stages of development used to describe osteoarthritis knee pain: mild, moderate, and severe.

1. Mild Osteoarthritis

When osteoarthritis first becomes noticeable on medical images, the patient may feel very little pain or limitation to their mobility.

Typically the area around the joints starts to feel stiff and uncomfortable, particularly when the joint is challenged – for example, when a certain sitting posture is held for an extended period, after rising in the morning, during use of a staircase, or following a workout.

When osteoarthritis is mild, the osseous and soft tissue around the joint are essentially the same in x-rays.

2. Moderate Osteoarthritis

As the disease progresses into its moderate form, inflammation at the joint becomes more apparent. It may become difficult to bend the knee or fully extend the leg, and a patient may hear the joint make popping or snapping sounds when they walk.

At this stage, the bones become rougher and develop spurs at the joints. The gap between the bones may also become less apparent.

3. Severe Osteoarthritis

At this advanced phase of the disease, it may become challenging and excruciating to use your body in typical everyday ways, including walking and descending stairs.

More spurs may develop, and the joint space may completely disappear – resulting in friction between the bones.

Deformity is also a possibility once osteoarthritis becomes severe.

Medical images vs. pain

The three stages of osteoarthritis are identifiable through x-rays and symptoms, says UK physiotherapist Chloe Wilson, who recommends to focus on how you feel. “Some people … suffering from a great deal of osteoarthritis knee pain may only show mild changes on x-ray,” she says. “It is much more important to concentrate on your symptoms, rather than what your x-ray shows.”

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