Osteoarthritis or OA is a common, progressive joint disease characterized by chronic pain and functional disability. Females are more likely to develop this than males.
OA often occurs in the knee joint, which consists of 3 bones- the femur (thighbone), the tibia (shin bone), and the patella (kneecap). Cartilage coats the ends of these bones. There are also 2 meniscus (the medial and lateral) that act as shock absorbers. In a normal knee, these parts all work together for smooth functions of the knee such as walking, jogging, running, jumping, and much more. However, when one gets OA in the knee, these functions are impaired.
Common symptoms of OA in the knee include:
- Pain – this pain can be triggered by changes in the weather like when it becomes colder. This pain can also be more prominent in the morning or after long periods of sitting/inactivity.
- Swelling – there is often swelling seen around the knee area.
- Stiffness – this stiffness causes there to be a difficulty when bending and straightening the knee.
- Weakness or bucking of the knee – people often say that their knee “gave out on them”.
- “Locking” of the knee – in some cases the knee can get stuck in one position.
- Joint noises such as cracking, clicking, snapping, or grinding.
OA of the knee is typically diagnosed during a physical exam by a physician. The physician will examine the knee for joint swelling, warmth, or redness. They will also check for swelling, stiffness, weakness, or any joint noises. The clinician will also feel for any tenderness around the knee and assess the knee’s range of motion (ROM) and stability. Lastly, the physician will ask for past medical history and if the patient experiences any difficulty in walking or pain in other weight-bearing joints. If the physician suspects there to be a case of OA, he or she will ask for further testing, like an X-ray, to be completed. X-rays can show the bones in the knee and differentiate osteoarthritis from rheumatoid arthritis. MRIs and CT scans can also be requested, as these scans can help the physician determine if there is an involvement of any other structures.
Risk factors of knee OA include:
- Age – this disease is more common in those over the age of 50.
- Gender – women are more likely to get OA than men.
- Area of residence.
- Smoking cigarettes
- Educational level.
- Previous knee injury.
Knee OA is a degenerative disease and there is no cure. However, the condition can be treated. Treatment of OA in the knee can be either non-surgical or surgical. The non-surgical treatment is the 1st line of defense in the treatment of knee OA. It typically involves lifestyle changes such as:
- Reducing aggravating activities like stair-climbing.
- Choosing low-impact exercises instead of high-impact ones. For example, you can opt to do cycling or swimming.
- Losing weight. This will reduce stress on the knee joints, which are weight-bearing joints. Less weight on the knees will also reduce pain and improve knee function.
- Physical therapy. A physical therapist can assist in the prescription of assistive devices to reduce the load on the knee. They can also assist with pain management and knee strengthening exercises.
There is also a surgical approach for when these measures are not enough. Joint arthroplasty or knee replacement can be utilized in cases where OA is severe. However, this approach is usually costly, requires a longer period off work, longer periods of reduced mobility, and body trauma from major surgery. Lastly, these are some take-home points that you should remember about knee OA:
- Knee OA can be prevented but not cured.
- Losing weight can reduce the effects of knee OA tremendously; especially 20% or more of your body weight.
- Consider eating more anti-inflammatory foods like blueberries, cherries, and fatty fish.
- Smoking is bad for you.
- Choose low-impact exercises.
OA may not be curable, but prevention is possible. Early intervention can also help alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life.