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What is knee osteoarthritis?

Your body is constantly changing, as old cells are replaced with new ones. Cartilage, bone, joint linings, muscles, and nerves adapt to life and movement. These changes can be helpful (like those that happen with exercise training) but some changes can be linked with pain, stiffness or swelling.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a term that is used to describe changes in joints. Changes in knee cartilage and joint surfaces happen, but these are only part of the story. Most of what you see and feel is due to change in tissues around your knee and how your brain and body respond.

Key points about OA:


  • OA is a process, not an end-point.
  • OA involves many tissues (not just your knee).
  • OA is a process you can help.

OA is not something that happens suddenly, but rather a process that has been going on very slowly for a long time. Changes in your knee will have been there for much longer than you have noticed pain.

OA changes are more often painful in people who have been less active, are overweight, or who have old injuries. It is not true that everyone gets OA as they get older. It is also not true that OA always gets worse with age.

What has affected your knee so far is not the most important thing. What matters is that there are many things you can do to improve your joint health, how it feels, and how well you can take part in life.

There is a lot more to your knee than just cartilage. It is important to also think about muscles, tendons, bones, joint linings, joint fluid, ligaments, and nerves.


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The fact that bodies are always changing means that you can help the OA process.

You can do things to improve how your body changes.

Daily activity and exercise promote helpful changes and do not harm joints.

“I actually did change my mindset about things... I tried to change how I feel, instead of moping around... After that, my knee wasn't as sore. And I was more active too, actually.”
Sela, 36 YEARs OLD, knee pain for 6 months