When Rheumatoid Arthritis Attacks the Knee

Could the pain in my knee be from rheumatoid arthritis?

Arthritis is especially common in the knee joint, but it can target any of the body’s joints. We rarely encounter or even hear about most of them, but there are actually over 100 different kinds of arthritis. Most affect adults, primarily, but childhood and adolescent arthritis is also a problem. Of the many types of arthritis, there are three that are commonly found in the knee. They are:

  • Osteoarthritis – This is the most common form of arthritis that affects the knee and is often referred to as the “wear and tear” arthritis due to the degenerative type of damage done to the joint that develops over a long period of time. As we age, the constant demands made on the knee cause the cartilage in the joint to break down, which results in there no longer being a protective layer keeping the bones from rubbing together.  
  • Posttraumatic arthritis – Arthritis that develops as a result of trauma to the knee, such as tears in ligaments or other tissue, is called posttraumatic arthritis. The injury may heal with no apparent lasting damage, but there will be an increased likelihood of arthritis developing in the future. 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – The third type of arthritis that commonly attacks the knee is rheumatoid arthritis, which is actually an autoimmune disease. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis in the Knee 

Rheumatoid arthritis in the knee, like other forms of autoimmune diseases that manifest throughout the body, flips the wrong switch in the immune system and makes the body believe that the knee is being attacked. As it is programmed to respond, the immune system leaps into action and retaliates with a counterattack of its own. Unfortunately, it ends up attacking the body, itself; in this case, the tissue, ligaments and cartilage in the knee joint. 

When rheumatoid arthritis is located in the knee, the synovial lining of the joint becomes swollen and painful. The knee will also become increasingly stiff and appear red and warm to the touch. As the disease progresses, inflammation in the cells triggers the release of enzymes that cause damage to bone and cartilage, leading to more pain and impaired mobility. 

Besides the pain, stiffness and appearance symptoms, rheumatoid arthritis can also cause body temperature to rise and result in a feeling of extreme fatigue. Another sign that it might be rheumatoid arthritis affecting the knee is that it presents in a symmetrical pattern, meaning that both knees are normally affected instead of just one or the other. 

Treatment Options

Although research is ongoing, there is, currently, no cure for rheumatoid arthritis in the knee or anywhere else. Symptom management and the prevention of further damage to the joint will be the main focus of your healthcare professional. Surgery, often joint replacement surgery, will be recommended in the most severe cases, but typically more conservative suggestions will include some combination of medication for pain and reducing inflammation, coupled with exercise, ice and heat application, and physical therapy. Ultrasound guided injections of corticosteroid to the knee as well as aspiration of swollen joints can prove helpful in relieving more acute symptoms. 

Rheumatoid arthritis in the knee or any other part of the body can be very challenging to live with. It is important to know that the earlier it is diagnosed the better the chances are for slowing or avoiding the worst of it. If you suspect you may have rheumatoid arthritis or any other form of arthritis, contact your orthopedic specialist as soon as possible. 

At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our physicians are committed to more than just treating your symptoms. We strongly believe that each individual is best served through an integrative treatment plan. We focus on finding the underlying cause and providing non-surgical, evidenced-based solutions tailored to your specific condition and needs. If you are experiencing knee pain or have questions about any condition or service, we invite you to schedule a consultation by using our convenient online form by clicking here