What you should know about osteoarthritis

Which symptoms are characteristic of the onset of osteoarthritis of the knee?

A range of “typical” symptoms may point to osteoarthritis of the knee. These can occur individually or in combination. When symptoms appear – which is not necessarily always the case with early osteoarthritis – they often occur in the following progression:

1. Cracking in the joint
2. Pain during load-bearing activities (such as carrying heavy objects)
3. Pain during everyday activities (such as climbing stairs)
4. Limited mobility
5. Swelling and inflammation

If you experience one or more of these symptoms, you should see a physician to determine whether you actually have osteoarthritis of the knee. A diagnosis can be made using various methods.

Procedure for diagnosing suspected osteoarthritis of the knee


An “anamnesis” is another term for the process of compiling a case history by enquiring about various factors. It provides a first impression of the type and severity of the illness.

Important questions for you:

  • What pain do you have and where?
  • Does this pain occur when you are active and/or inactive?
  • Are you limited in your movement in any way?
  • Are you restricted in any way at work, in everyday life and/or during sports?
  • Do you take medications and/or have you taken steps to relieve your pain?
  • When are you free of pain?

Physical examination

A physical examination encompasses an external inspection, palpation and a performance test.

  • The inspection primarily consists of checking body posture, joint swelling and positioning, any decrease in muscle volume, reddening of the skin and vascular abnormalities.
  • Palpation detects overheating, joint friction, hypodermic swelling, skin and hypodermic consistency, skin movement, pressure pain and joint effusions.
  • The performance test checks the range of motion in a joint and the stability of the knee ligaments.

Imaging methods

  • Computer tomography (CT)
    CT is a computer-based method which generates a sectional view from a series of X-ray images.
  • Scintigraphy
    In scintigraphy, the patient is given radioactive marker substances. These allow certain body tissues to be made visible with the help of a gamma camera.

Causes and course of the disease

The vicious circle of osteoarthritis

When two bones are connected to each other by a joint, the point of contact is covered in cartilage. This reduces friction and acts as a “shock absorber” by absorbing and distributing forces.

When osteoarthritis of the knee develops due to joint malalignment, an accident, advancing age, obesity or excessive strain, the damaged cartilage is no longer able to properly fulfil the functions mentioned above. This results in pain and reduced mobility. The affected patient instinctively assumes a relieving posture to reduce strain on the knee. However, this often leads to new problems in other places, such as the hip, and reduces the supply of nutrients to the cartilage, for which movement is required – sparking a vicious circle.

The cartilage continues to retract while the bone thickens at the site of the damage. If the layer of cartilage is ultimately worn away completely, the bones come into direct contact with each other. This causes joint pain and inflammation.