Microgen/ShutterstockThe alarm goes off, you stretch your arms overhead, and throw back the covers, ready to start your day. But as you start to amble to the kitchen to make coffee, you notice your knees ache and are making an audible creaking noise—red-flag symptoms of arthritis. How can you be sure?
There are actually dozens of types of arthritis—here’s how to tell them apart—but the form that most often affects knee joints is osteoarthritis, the wear-and-tear type that causes the breakdown of cartilage, the rubbery material that cushions the joint. You can end up with bones rubbing against each other, and that leads to stiffness, pain, and loss of movement in the joint. Some people have a hereditary risk of developing osteoarthritis in the knee, but for others, it can be spurred by injury, infection, or even from being overweight.
Osteoarthritis can strike any joint in the body, but knees are especially prone to the condition. Research from the American Association of Osteopathic Surgeons has found that up to 13 percent of men over the age of 45 and up to 19 percent of women in the same age range have symptoms of arthritis in the knee. A full half of all adults will develop symptoms of arthritis in the knee at some point during their lives, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
There’s no cure for arthritis in the knee (or anywhere else), but there are plenty of ways to minimize the pain, including these natural arthritis remedies. So if you have any of these symptoms and they persist, see your doctor.
Your knees creak or grind
You go to do a down dog in yoga and your knee creaks so loudly that the person on the next mat can hear it. Awkward—and painful. Grinding sounds may be the result of exposed bones rubbing against each other; popping sounds are more likely caused by fluid moving around in the joint, says Alexis Colvin, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at The Mount Sinai Hospital. If you’re familiar with those sounds but don’t have any pain or other signs of arthritis, you should still listen up and take these easy steps to protect your knee joints, because having noisy knee joints might be a major predictor of arthritis down the road, according to researchers from Baylor College of Medicine.
The pain gets worse over time
Unlike immediate knee soreness you might get if you injure the joint, arthritis pain typically comes on gradually, says Dr. Colvin. At first, you might only feel it first thing in the morning, or after you get up from sitting at your desk for a few hours. Over time, the ache may become more frequent. You might notice it when you’re climbing stairs or if you kneel for too long. Some people even find the pain wakes them up at night, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
You have more pain when you’re active
When your joint is already painful, moving it around may worsen the pain because it causes the bones to rub. As long as the feeling isn’t agonizing, try to (gently!) push through it. If you keep moving, you’ll improve circulation and lubrication in the joint, which will actually help it feel better, notes the Arthritis Foundation. Stick with gentle exercise like walking or swimming. Temple University researchers found that older adults who did water-based exercises like water jogging had improved range of motion and quality of life.
Your knee may “lock” or “stick” when you try to move it
Smooth surfaces glide over each other easily, but when you have arthritis in the knee, there are little “potholes” in the lining of the cartilage and bone that can cause the joint to catch when you move it, says Dr. Colvin. Plus, as the entire joint becomes more unstable and weaker, it can cause the knee to buckle.
You’ve put on a few pounds
As the scale creeps up, you put more pressure on your joints—especially your knees. In fact, every pound of weight you gain adds three to four pounds of extra weight on your knees, reports WebMD. And a 2016 study found that obesity made it nearly five times more likely a person would develop knee osteoarthritis compared to people at a healthy weight. The good news? You don’t have to lose a lot of weight to see a big difference in pain. A separate study from the University of California at San Francisco found that overweight and obese individuals who lost just 5 percent of their body weight saw significant declines in cartilage degeneration. Looking for other ways to protect your joints from arthritis? Try these 12 easy ways to reduce your risk—some are as easy as having a cup of tea.
Your knee feels swollen or misshapen
Inflammation is a classic hallmark of arthritis in the knee. Sometimes, the lining of the joint—called the synovium—swells or fluid can build up in the area, notes the Arthritis Foundation. You may also notice a visible change in the shape of the knee. “There isn’t a lot of muscle right around the knee, so when the joint becomes inflamed, the bones can start to change shape,” says Dr. Colvin. In severe cases, changes in the bone can cause people to walk with a different gait or even become bow-legged, notes Dr. Colvin.
You have more knee pain when it rains
Many arthritis sufferers claim they can predict wet weather by the level of pain in their joints. In one study, 67.9 percent of the people surveyed responded that they were sure changes in the weather had an effect on their pain, with most people saying they noticed the change before rain or cold weather. Researchers aren’t sure if there’s a legitimate connection, but it might be possible that changes in atmospheric pressure could have an effect, says Dr. Colvin.
Arthritis runs in your family
Does your family skip the annual Thanksgiving touch-football tradition because everyone would need to ice their knees afterward? You’re more likely to suffer arthritis symptoms if your parents, grandparents, or siblings have the condition, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And recent research from the UK identified nine genes for osteoarthritis, which suggests that genes may explain at least part of the reason this link exists. And help yourself stay active with these stretches for arthritis that you can do without leaving your chair.