It is estimated that 1.3 million Americans are affected by rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an inflammatory form of arthritis. Of that number, 75 percent are women. RA most often strikes between the ages of 30 and 40, but it can affect people of any age, even very young children. (1, 2)
While osteoarthritis is the erosion of, or damage to the cartilage through wear and tear, rheumatoid arthritis “is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the joints. RA usually occurs in a symmetrical pattern, affecting both hands, knees, ankles, feet, hips, elbows, and shoulders.” (1)
In all these joints, a thin tissue called synovium lies between the two pieces of joint cartilage on the end of each bone. Cartilage prevents the bones from rubbing against each other during activity. The synovium lubricates the joints so they can glide smoothly and painlessly. When the synovium becomes inflamed, it leads to damage and permanent destruction of the joint. (1)
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in the knee may include (1):
• Swelling, inflammation
• Warmth around the knee joints
• Flu-like symptoms
• Weight loss
• Issues with skin, heart and lungs
There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis in the knee, but treatments are available. Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories), and/or low-dose steroids are used together. A list of possible DMARDs can be found here.
When all other avenues of treatment have been tried and considered, a total joint replacement or a synovectomy may be options. (1) Joint replacement means replacing existing damaged cartilage with metal and/or plastic devices to do the job of healthy cartilage. Synovectomy means openly or arthroscopically removing the inflamed portions of the synovium, which may relieve knee pain for up to five years. (1)
Osteoarthritis in the Knee
As we’ve already learned, osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when the joint cartilage is worn away over time.