In most cases, the right treatment option for any medical condition is the one that your medical professional recommends. After all, they are the experts and they should know what they are talking about.
Of course, a medical professional may prefer their own tried and tested methods, may not be interested in new techniques, or may simply get it wrong. While you should listen to the professional and be prepared to follow their advice it’s beneficial to understand the issue and the potential options yourself.
What Is Osteoarthritis in Knees?
All the joints in your body have a layer of cartilage that coats the two bones. In effect, this creates a smooth surface where two bones meet, allowing them to move without causing friction. This smooth surface is known as cartilage.
It’s normal for your cartilage to become damaged through aging, exercise, or unusual movements. Your body will repair the cartilage and joint smoothness continues. Unfortunately, sometimes the repair causes the joints to change shape or structure. This is known as osteoarthritis.
It’s most common in your knees although it can affect any joint in your body.
It’s worth noting that your knee also has cartilage under your kneecap to ensure it isn’t subject to friction when you move. In addition, the cartilage which is usually called menisci is across the knee joint to help spread loads.
When this cartilage thins or doesn’t repair properly the joint is no longer smooth. It will feel painful and stiff. It is particularly common in women over 50, although obesity, gout, and your genes can affect the likelihood of you having osteoarthritis.
The Treatment Options
There is currently no cure for osteoarthritis. However, the condition does not necessarily get worse over time and, with the right treatment, it doesn’t have to affect your quality of life.
There are three main types of treatment:
1. Lifestyle Changes
Osteoarthritis can occur through the overuse of your knees. This is particularly a problem if you are genetically predisposed for the condition and run a lot or undertake similar exercises that place a heavy strain on your legs.
In this instance, you’ll need to make lifestyle changes, such as reducing exercise intensity while increasing the number of times you exercise.
Equally, if you’re carrying excess weight then losing some can help to reduce the strain on your knees and improve the condition.
If you are suffering from osteoarthritis and the above issues don’t apply then your lifestyle changes will need to focus on staying healthy. This means maintaining a healthy weight and maintaining a balanced diet. It’s particularly important to ensure your body is getting all the vitamins and minerals it needs.
You should also note that regular exercise is an important part of the treatment process. Exercising regularly can help to improve your cardiovascular fitness. This reduces high blood pressure and improves the flow of nutrients around your body. In effect, ensuring your knees have all the nutrients they need to repair the cartilage.
Exercise also builds up your muscle strength. The aim is to improve muscle strength in your calves and thighs, these support the knee joint. Strengthening these muscles reduces the stress on your knee joints. In turn, this alleviates the pain and encourages cartilage recovery.
Of course, exercise also helps to improve your posture, lower stress and maintains your weight, all things that will help alleviate the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
As always, if you haven’t exercised for an extended period of time then start slowly. It’s a good idea to speak to your doctor first to ensure your chosen exercise routine is beneficial.
2. Additional Therapies
Lifestyle changes are important to help you deal with the symptoms of osteoarthritis and to improve the condition as much as possible. Exercise and a healthy diet are also beneficial to your overall health.
However, there are a number of alternative therapies that can also be useful when tackling osteoarthritis.
Massaging the joint is particularly important if you’re not able to move much due to the pain. A lack of movement causes muscles to waste and will increase the stiffness in your knee joint. Moving the joint manually is important to maintain muscles and help to alleviate the pain.
In addition, regular massage by a professional, such as the Darlinghurst massage center, can help to increase blood flow which boosts the nutrients available to your knee and the ability of your body to repair the area.
Of course, it is important that a professional manually manipulate your limbs. If an untrained person tries they could cause more harm than good.
TENS is short for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. If you’ve ever seen the muscle-building kits that supposedly build muscle through electric shocks then you already understand the principle.
A TENS device sends electrical impulses through your skin to the nerve endings in your knees. The intent is to numb the nerves, reducing, or even eliminating the pain of osteoarthritis. The strength of the pulse is defined by your pain level, as is the duration of the treatment
- Hot & Cold
Cold packs are effective at reducing inflammation as they reduce the flow of blood and limit your ability to react to the pain. Preventing inflammation reduces the stress on the knee which is caused by the pressure of inflamed tissue.
You can then apply hot treatment to boost blood flow and ensure the area has the nutrients it needs to start repairing the cartilage. It’s a common approach in athletics to deal with injuries and very effective.
- Mobility Aids
If your osteoarthritis is serious enough to cause mobility issues then you’ll find an array of options to help you get around. The usual starting point is to add insoles or wear special shoes. These will absorb the shock, reducing the pressure, and therefore the pain, at your joints.
If this isn’t helpful then you may find that a stick can help. You’ll need to use it on the opposite side of your body to the leg with osteoarthritis as this will ensure the leg muscles are still working. It’s even possible to have a splint to reduce the strain on your joint further.
Surgery is usually only an option in extreme cases. But, it’s important to be aware that it is an option. You’ll need to be referred to a specialist who will discuss the options available to you.
It’s possible to have a knee joint replaced with an artificial one. Artificial joints can last for as long as twenty years before it needs replacing. Younger patients may benefit from resurfacing where metal components are used for longevity.
Alternatively, it’s possible to fuse the joint. This should eliminate the pain and make your joint stronger. However, because it’s fused you won’t be able to bend it anymore. It’s important to consider all the ramifications of this decision.
Another option is to remove some of the bone around the joint. The bone around the joint is removed or sometimes added to. It can help realign your knee, balancing the weight load and alleviating the pain of osteoarthritis.
3. Pain Medication
Pain medication is useful to help you get through the pain associated with osteoarthritis. However, you should be aware that painkillers can be addictive, creating a different set of issues.
You should talk to your doctor regarding the best painkillers for your situation.
It’s normal to start with paracetamol which can be purchased over-the-counter without a prescription. You can self-administer this but should ever exceed the stated dose.
Another common option is Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs. These are stronger than paracetamol but you’ll need a prescription to get them. It is possible to get a topical cream without a prescription.
It’s worth trying the cream first, if that and paracetamol aren’t doing the job the doctor is likely to give you NSAID’s.
These are extremely powerful at relieving pain. They are prescription over and can lead to an addiction. They can also make you drowsy, constipated, and feel sick.
- Steroid Injections
Cortisol is a natural hormone made by your body to help prepare it for stressful situations. It can also help with painful musculoskeletal issues. Steroids are a manmade version of cortisol and can be injected directly into your knee. They can eliminate the pain for several weeks at a time.
Final Thoughts Re Osteoarthritis In Your Knees
Stiff and painful knees have a direct impact on your ability to get around and undertake daily activities. It’s important that you seek medical advice as soon as you think you may have an issue. This will help to treat the symptoms as soon as possible and reduce the progression of the issue.
In short, early treatment will help you to maintain your quality of life. It’s essential that you speak with a medical professional for a complete assessment and then devise a treatment plan together. This will ensure it’s personal and effective.
By Jesse Huges