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What are the stages of osteoarthritis and their treatments?

Millions of people all over the world develop osteoarthritis (OA). Among the various types of arthritis prevalent in society, this is considered to be the most common one. It is most frequently referred to as the “wear and tear arthritis” affecting the knees. While science has helped us make our lifelines longer, it has also paved the way for the development of several diseases. Osteoarthritis is one of them. It is actually believed that people will develop some type of knee osteoarthritis during their lifetime. Even though it is such a common disease, people are mostly unaware of it. So let's find out a little more about the condition, its stages and some of the best ways to deal with it.

OA takes place in 4 stages. The cartilage between the joints providing the cushioning effect gets worn down. There is wear and tear of the top layer of the cartilage, which leads to friction between the bones. It can lead to a lot of pain and swelling, which can be severe enough to render your knee immobile. It could also result in the development of bone spurs.

There is another form of knee OA, which is called secondary knee osteoarthritis. It is caused by the weakening of your joint, instead of being worn out by old age. Since old age is not a necessary factor, people much younger might be prone to develop it. Anyone between the ages of 45-50 are especially vulnerable to it. The elements that might lead to the development of secondary knee osteoarthritis are genetics, knee injury, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and various other causes that might weaken your joints.

There is a possibility that you might be going through the symptoms of osteoarthritis. However, lack of awareness makes it hard to pinpoint if your discomfort originates from osteoarthritis or something else. Various factors can cause further confusion. 


  • What stage of osteoarthritis are you in? 
  • What are the symptoms? 
  • What is the best course of treatment?

All of these questions might haunt you. So let's break it down one question at a time.

What are the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis?

1. Knee joint stiffness that becomes much worse after periods of inactivity like in the mornings.


2. The knee area becoming sensitive and prone to swelling.


3. Weakened knee which could lead to it bucking under your weight.


4. Problems in bending your knee when sitting, or straightening it right after.


5. Daily activities like walking or going up and down the stairs can become infinitely more difficult.

The four stages of osteoarthritis are differentiated based on symptoms and the treatment allocated to each stage. Stage 1 is when the symptoms start to appear, and stage 4 is when they reach their worst stage possible.

Stage 1 
of Knee Osteoarthritis


The knee begins to sprout minor bone spurs during the first stage. The wear and tear is small and in its early stages. So the discomfort you might experience is similarly minimal and might be easily ignored. 


The treatment recommended for early osteoarthritis includes maintaining an active lifestyle but not to put any pressure on the knee. You might want to do exercises to strengthen your knee. It is also important to eat right and have a healthy lifestyle. Doing this will avoid putting on extra pounds and keep the pressure off of your knees. Obesity or being in that neighbourhood can have extremely detrimental effects for your knees in the long run. So it’s vital that you maintain a healthy body weight.  


Stage 2 

of Knee Osteoarthritis


While the symptoms of OA start to become more evident in stage 2, they're still considered pretty mild. There is a growth of bone spurs, but the cartilage holds its own and remains healthy in size. The bones avoid rubbing against one another as the space between them is still maintained. Your knee might feel tender and sensitive, though. There is still synovial fluid present that helps promote movement by keeping the friction at a minimum. 


It is recommended to get a consultation with a doctor. Patients suffering from stage 2 knee osteoarthritis might opt for medicines that are readily available over the counter. If your weight is more than the recommended amount you should try some activities that will help you lose it. Daily exercise and following a healthy diet can work wonders to strengthen your knee muscles and joints. Strength training or aerobics can help, along with taking regular walks. To avoid injury, you could use wraps and braces while exercising. 

Stage 3 

of Knee Osteoarthritis


The 3rd stage witnesses further damage as the space between your bones begin to lessen. While this is still the moderate stage, the pain may worsen. The activities that you didn't think about twice before, like running errands, can now turn into a hugely difficult task. Activities like walking or running can lead to extreme amounts of pain. The pain is especially evident while bending the knee or kneeling. Even sitting can bring along its own set of problems. At the end of a long sitting spell, you will witness your knee becoming quite stiff. You should make sure you stick to the exercise regime set by your doctor. 


Stage 3 is an advanced form of osteoarthritis, and the damage is much more severe. It can be dealt with in two different ways as recommended by your doctor. Subscribing to pain medications can be the first alternative your doctor might discuss with you. This is, however, not a long term solution. There is a possibility of becoming dependent or developing tolerance of the drug. The second course of treatment is injecting Cortisone to help manage the pain. Cortisone is already produced by your body naturally. When injected into the area around your affected knee, it brings the pain levels down. Exercise and healthy eating are some of the vital elements of the treatment.  


Stage 4 

of Knee Osteoarthritis


The 4th stage is the final and the most intense of all the stages. It leads to the space between your bones to be minimised completely. The cartilage is at its bare minimum, and you're always in varying amounts of pain. Any movement of the knee causes discomfort, and in some instances, excruciating amounts of pain.


The best course of treatment recommended by your doctor at this stage might be osteotomy, a bone realignment surgery. It helps balance the weight of your body away from the parts sustaining the most amount of damage due to bone spurs. A complete knee replacement called arthroplasty is another option on the table. However, this surgery is considered only if the damage is extreme, and the pain cannot be managed in any other way.  

Consulting a doctor will help you determine if you are indeed suffering from osteoarthritis and its level. The doctor will also aid you in mapping out the best form of treatment to manage your symptoms. While osteoarthritis has no cure, it's symptoms can be managed. So you must take care to follow any guidelines provided by the doctor and stick to a healthy routine.

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