Early knee arthritis symptoms first felt when using stairs

People who suffer from knee pain when using the stairs may be experiencing the early symptoms of osteoarthritis, according to a new study by University of Leeds experts.

The research, published in the medical journal Arthritis Care & Research, aimed to investigate which patient-reported activities are first associated with knee pain, in order to improve early detection of osteoarthritis and so increase the chances of people seeking effective treatment.

Philip Conaghan, Professor of Musculoskeletal Medicine in the School of Medicine, led the study. He said: “At present we have little concept of ‘early’ osteoarthritis and often only see people when they have significant longstanding pain and loss of function. This research is vital to understanding early symptoms of knee osteoarthritis.

“Knowing this will help us intervene earlier, perhaps leading to more effective ways of treating this very painful condition.”

For this study, the team looked at the cases of 4,673 people who have, or are at high risk of, osteoarthritis. Participants completed annual surveys for up to seven years in order to help the researchers track the emergence of pain during different activities over a long-term period.

The study revealed that using stairs was the first weight-bearing task in which people noticed pain.

Early knee arthritis symptoms first felt when using stairs This was followed by pain emerging during walking, standing, lying or sitting and then finally when resting in bed.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Health Research, Arthritis Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Arthritis in the Knee

There are three different types of arthritis that can occur in your knees. The most common type is osteoarthritis, a progressive disease that slowly wears away joint cartilage. This type of arthritis is most likely to strike after middle age.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease that can strike at any age.

When arthritis develops following an injury to the knee, it is called post-traumatic arthritis. It can occur years after a torn meniscus, injury to ligament, or fracture of the knee.

Some types of arthritis can cause fatigue.

Gradual Increase in Pain
Swelling or Tenderness
Buckling and Locking
Cracking or Popping Sounds
Poor Range of Motion
Loss of Joint Space
Deformities of the Knee


Further information

The paper, “Toward a Clinical Definition of Early Osteoarthritis: Onset of Patient-Reported Knee Pain Begins on Stairs. Data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative”, by Hensor et al, is available from the Press Office.

Professor Philip Conaghan is available for interview. Contact the University of Leeds press office on 0113 343 4031, out-of-hours-mobile on 07712 389448 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Common symptoms of knee arthritis:

  Pain with activities
  Limited range of motion
  Stiffness of the knee
  Swelling of the joint
  Tenderness along the joint
  A feeling the joint may “give out”
  Deformity of the joint (knock-knees or bow-legs)

University of Leeds

The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK, with more than 31,000 students from 147 different countries, and a member of the Russell Group research-intensive universities.


Ben Jones

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Journal -  Arthritis Care & Research
Funder - National Institute of Health Research, Arthritis Research UK, Wellcome Trust, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

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