Arthritis of the Knee

Arthritis -- a painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints -- is actually a very complex set of musculoskeletal disorders. In fact, there are more than 80 forms of arthritis, several of which affect the knee.

If you have any type of arthritis of the knee, you'll want to know that the University of Michigan Health System offers several surgical and non-surgical options that bring relief to hundreds of patients every year. 

Our multidisciplinary approach enables us to diagnose and treat our patients quickly. The end result for our patients is the best possible care. 

Typical symptoms include:

  • Difficulty performing normal activities that bear weight on the knee, such as going up and down stairs, cooking meals or washing dishes 
  • Feeling of the knee buckling
  • Flares where symptoms worsen for a few days or weeks and then go away
  • Pain gradually increases over time
  • Weakened leg muscles


  • We will perform a physical exam of your knee to evaluate range of motion and will look for signs of swelling, tenderness and stiffness (the most common sign). 
  • We will conduct a radiographic exam (X-ray) to determine the loss of cartilage and joint space in the knee.
  • Further exams including possible labs or MRI may be warranted based on exam findings. An MRI is usually not needed in cases where arthritis is seen on the X-ray.


We consider non-surgical treatments first, and when those are exhausted or unsuccessful, we consider surgery. In addition, with arthritis of the knee we may have to suggest surgery because arthritis can cause so much damage to the knee joint. 

Non-surgical Treatment 

Your physician may suggest treatments, including:

  • Physical therapy, pool therapy or home exercises to strengthen the leg muscles
  • Lifestyle and activity changes
  • Injections such as cortisone or viscosupplementation 
  • An assistive device (such as a cane, crutches, braces, walker, etc.)

Surgical Treatment 

  • Arthroscopy -  A “scope” typically does not provide long-term relief for arthritis, but it may be considered when there is sudden loss of motion and mechanical symptoms to suggest a torn cartilage. 
  • Osteotomy - Either the tibia (shinbone) or femur (thighbone) are re-shaped to relieve pressure on the knee joint. 
  • Partial knee replacement (unicompartmental or “uni”) - A partial knee replacement or “uni” replaces only a portion of the joint. This is mostly done for isolated medial (inside the joint) arthritis and knee pain with activity. 
  • Total knee replacement (tricompartmental or TKA) - We replace the entire knee joint with a metal and plastic implant. We make a surprisingly small incision, using modern instruments sized to the patient's joint. 

Knee replacements are durable and can provide decades of relief from arthritis.

Contact Us/Make an Appointment

  • Orthopaedics, 734-936-5780
  • Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR), 734-936-7175
  • Rheumatology, 888-229-3065

Selecting a health care provider is a very important decision. Because we are highly experienced in successfully treating arthritis of the knee, we would like to help you explore your options. Visit our Contact Us page to see a list of Musculoskeletal Call Centers. Our staff will be glad to talk with you about your options and how we can help.