Can osteoarthritis of the knee cause pain in the entire leg from hip to ankle?

Knee arthritis is the most common type of arthritis and can lead to a need for an eventual total knee replacement.

“In my experience, this would be very rare,” says Marc F. Matarazzo, MD, a board certified orthopedic surgeon with The Center for Bone & Joint Surgery of the Palm Beaches, FL.

“However, there are instances when patients will have symptoms that radiate either toward the hip or toward the ankle.

“When the patient complains of ‘whole leg pain,’ one tends to place a likely diagnosis of sciatica or lumbar radiculopathy at the top of the list.

“Frequently I will see patients who either complain of pain radiating from the knee into the thigh or from the knee down toward the ankle.

“More often than not, these patients will have findings consistent with insufficiency fractures of the distal femur [bottom of thigh] or proximal tibia [the wider part of this bone at the knee joint], respectively.”

An insufficiency fracture is a type of stress fracture (small crack in a bone) that is caused by normal stress on abnormal bone – usually a porous weak bone.

“It is not hard to imagine weight bearing on her fracture and having pain along the span of the whole bone that is fractured,” continues Dr. Matarazzo.

“This is commonly seen with arthritis of the knee. Typically this would be a lancinating [sharp] pain shooting from the knee toward either the thigh or ankle, worse with weight bearing and oftentimes completely relieved with rest.”

If you have pain up and down your entire leg in the absence of trauma, it’s far more likely to be caused by sciatica or lumbar radiculopathy rather than osteoarthritis of the knee.

With sciatica, the sciatic nerve is subjected to compression, either by a bulging disc or the piriformis muscle.

The sciatic nerve. Shutterstock/Nathan Devery

Lumbar radiculopathy means that a nerve root in the vertebral column is being compressed or “pinched,” or is inflamed. This may or may not involve the sciatic nerve.

Dr. Matarazzo specializes in sports medicine and related injuries. He performs minimally invasive and complex reconstructions, and joint replacements, of the shoulder and knee. Dr. Matarazzo is certified in the MAKO robotic-assisted knee replacement system and has 20+ years of orthopedic experience. He has a special interest in cartilage restoration and preservation.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 


Top image: Shutterstock/BEAUTY STUDIO