Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), more than 30 million people in the United States have OA, most of them more than 45 years old. Aging, heavy use, obesity, and other factors make it an almost certainty that most of us will eventually suffer from this condition. Knees are a common site for OA.
The symptoms of knee osteoarthritis are swelling, stiffness, and pain, the hallmarks of OA.
As the knee’s cartilage wears away, the bones of the joint grind against each other, causing more damage and pain.
X-rays will show boney cysts, narrowed space between the joints, and sclerosing of the bones. It doesn’t take long for your doctor to diagnose a case of osteoarthritis of the knee.
Risk Factors for Knee OA
Many risk factors that indicate a good chance for developing knee OA. Some you can control, but others may be beyond your ability to change.
- Instability of the knee joint
- Stress from sports
- Bending the knee repetitively or lifting heavy weights
- Some occupations involve movement that may damage the knee
- Peripheral neuropathy often found in diabetics
- Joint injury
- Immobilization of the knee
- Family history
Medical Management of Knee OA
The diagnosis may be easy, but the proper treatment for each case is not. You and your doctor have several choices to make in choosing the best therapy for you.
- Acetaminophen, such as Tylenol is an excellent place to begin. You can buy them without a prescription, and you can combine them with other pain relievers. It is the most commonly used oral medication.
- NSAIDs, nonsteroidal inflammatory drugs such as Advil or Motrin can help symptoms if the acetaminophen is not adequate. You should not use these pills for long. There are both oral and topical NSAIDs.
- Opioids are strong prescription medications for moderate or severe pain. This class of medication includes fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, the illegal drug heroin, and many others. These drugs have a strong potential for dependency and addiction.
- Intra-articular injections inject fluid that relieve pain directly into the knee joint. These also contain steroids.
Physical Therapy Management
Exercise is proven to have a beneficial effect on every level of pain in OA, as well as pain management. Exercise improves the functioning of the knees with stronger muscles and aerobic conditioning.
To ensure you perform the exercises correctly, a physical therapist can instruct you and supervise activities personalized for you. You can do these at home, but research shows that doing the exercises in a group and at home is an effective combination.
Your Knee Joints
Your knee joint connects your thigh bone (femur) to the shin (tibia). It connects with smaller bone, the fibula. Those and the kneecap from the bony structure of your knee.