What is Knee Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and the knee is one of the most commonly affected joints.
It most commonly affects people older than 45 and is more common if you are overweight, have a family history of it, or have previously injured the joint in question. Osteoarthritis has varying impact on function, activity and quality of life. Contrary to popular belief it does not affect everyone as you get older and does not necessarily get worse with age.


Everyone’s joints go through a normal cycle of damage and repair during their lifetime, but sometimes the body’s process to repair our joints can cause changes in their shape or structure. When these changes happen in one or more of your joints, it’s known as osteoarthritis. The cartilage in your knee joint thins and the surfaces of the joint become rougher, which means that the knee doesn’t move as smoothly as it should, and it might feel painful and stiff.

Versus Arthritis have developed a video that explains more about osteoarthritis:

Common symptoms:

  • Pain on either side of the knee, the front or sometimes around the back of the knee.
  • Morning stiffness lasting less than 30 minutes.
  • Swelling around the knee.
  • Reduced knee movement.
  • Difficultly with activities such as being on your feet for a long time or going up and down the stairs.


There’s no cure for osteoarthritis, but there are things you can do for yourself that can make a difference to how the condition affects you and could significantly reduce your pain. Such as:


Joints need to be exercised regularly to keep them healthy. It’s very important to keep moving if you have osteoarthritis of the knee as exercise can strengthen the muscles around your knee, improve your posture and help you to lose weight, all of which can reduce the symptoms and pain of osteoarthritis. Various type of exercises proven to help treat osteoarthritis of the knee include range of movement exercises, strengthening exercises, aerobic exercises as well as exercising in water. Start slowly, build up the exercise gradually and a small increase in your pain when you start can be normal.

Versus Arthritis: Exercises for the knees

Weight management

Losing weight if you’re overweight could reduce your pain – and other symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee. The force put through your knees when you walk, run or go up and down stairs can be two or three times your body weight, so losing even a small amount of weight can make a big difference to the strain on your knees. There’s no special diet that will help with osteoarthritis, but if you need to lose some weight you should follow a balanced, reduced-calorie diet combined with regular exercise.

Pain relief

  • Using a heat pack or something similar on a painful knee might help to relieve the pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis.
  • An ice pack can also help but be careful not to put ice or heat packs or hot water bottles directly on your skin – wrap them with a tea towel or cover.
  • Over the counter painkillers like paracetamol will ease the pain, but need to be taken regularly in order to control the pain. A short course of anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen can help with swelling, and therefore help you move more freely. Follow the instructions on the packet and discuss using them safely with a pharmacist or GP, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.


ESCAPE-pain is a group rehabilitation programme for people with chronic joint pain that integrates educational self-management and coping strategies with an exercise regimen individualised for each participant. It helps people understand their condition, teaches them simple things they can help themselves with, and takes them through a progressive exercise programme so they learn how to cope with pain better.

Courses are currently running free of charge for residents of Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire in the following locations:

  • The Greenway Centre, Southmead
  • Brunel Fitness Centre, Speedwell
  • The Leisure Centres run by Circadian Trust in Bradley Stoke, Kingswood, Longwell Green, Thornbury and Yate.
  • Imperial Sports Ground, South Bristol
  • Age UK Somerset, Weston and Worle
  • North Bristol Trust- Southmead Hospital
  • University Hospitals Bristol and Weston- Bristol Royal Infirmary
  • University Hospitals Bristol and Weston- Weston Hospital
  • Sirona- Cossham Hospital
  • Sirona- Knowle West Health Park
  • Sirona- Marina Health Centre

Please see your healthcare practitioner for a referral. There may be other gyms and leisure centres running ESCAPE courses across BNSSG however these are not free for patients and a charge will apply.

For further information visit the ESCAPE-pain website

When should I seek help?

If your symptoms continue after trying the advice above, you should seek further advice from a healthcare practitioner.

Osteoarthritis can be painful, but most people are able to continue their general activities by following simple management advice. If your pain or limited movement is impacting significantly on your ability to carry out your usual activities, your quality of life or your wellbeing, please speak to a physiotherapist or other healthcare practitioner for further support, advice and to consider other options for management of your condition.

Steroid Injections

An injection directly into the knee joint may help reduce swelling and pain. For more information visit the NHS website

If conservative treatment hasn’t worked for you and your pain is very severe then you may benefit from having surgery on your knee. The most common type of surgery is a knee replacement.

How do I decide which treatment is right for me?

Decision support tools are designed to support shared decision making between you and a clinician. You may find they are useful before, during or between consultations depending on your care pathway.

decision aid is designed to help you decide between treatment options. You should go through it and talk to your healthcare professional.

Making a decision about knee osteoarthritis - decision aid


This video explains the different treatment options for Knee Osteoarthritis that you may wish to consider before knee replacement surgery.

For translated versions of this video, please click the links below: