Aching Knees: Help for Osteoarthritis
Knee Arthritis: A Common Malady
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a condition in which the cartilage between the bones wears down. Cartilage cushions your bones and helps you move your joints smoothly. Without enough cartilage, your bones rub together, causing pain, stiffness, and limited motion. Osteoarthritis of the knee is the most common form of knee arthritis, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). Treatment for OA of the knee can include both medical treatments and lifestyle changes.
Symptoms of Knee Arthritis
Arthritis is a progressive disease, meaning that it gradually gets worse over time. The early symptoms of knee OA might include stiffness in the joints when you wake up in the morning, or a dull ache after you’ve walked a lot or exercised. Tenderness, swelling, and warmth in the joints are also common symptoms of knee arthritis. Some people feel a weakness in the knee joint or feel and hear cracking or clicking noises in addition to other OA symptoms. Symptoms may occur only after physical activity at first, but as OA advances, you might also encounter pain while at rest, too.
How Is Knee OA Diagnosed?
Your doctor will rely heavily on your story to make an accurate diagnosis of knee OA. Tell your healthcare provider about your symptoms, including when you feel them and for how long. Your doctor will look for swelling in the joints and will ask you to flex and extend your knees to see if you have limited range of motion. X-rays will help too. The images reveal the telltale worn-down cartilage of osteoarthritis by showing a loss of space between the joints.
Many people find that osteoarthritis pain responds to over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen. If you’ve got moderate-to-severe OA of the knee, however, OTC medications might not be quite as effective as you’d like. Your doctor can prescribe more powerful drugs to reduce inflammation and provide you with more lasting pain relief. When oral medications don’t work, injectable corticosteroids can be another solution. These medicines are delivered directly to the knee joint and help the swelling recede. You could get injections several times a year, depending on your pain level.
Home Remedies for Pain
Try a variety of home remedies—with your doctor’s approval—in addition to pain medication to help your aching knees feel better. The first thing to do is rest if you’re having an OA flare-up. Even though movement and exercise helps maintain flexibility, you need to let your inflamed joints calm down a bit when you’re hurting. Other lifestyle changes that can relieve the pain of knee arthritis are:
- applying heat or cold to the knees
- losing weight if needed—excess weight puts more pressure on your knees
- installing grab bars or other adaptive devices around the home
- wearing knee braces to support the joint
Bracing Aching Knees
Knee arthritis can cause significant pain and weakness as the condition progresses. Weak joints require extra support as you carry out your daily routine. Braces and splints are designed to support your knees both while at rest and during activity. Some types of braces stabilize your knees without limiting your range of motion, while others stop you from moving in ways that cause pain. Remember to only wear the brace your doctor has prescribed. Wearing a device that isn’t right for you could make your condition worse.
You might think it’s strange if your doctor tells you to exercise when your knees hurt. It’s true that you should rest your joints during an active flare-up, but exercise is actually one of the best ways to combat arthritis symptoms. Joint stiffness is most common after a period of inactivity. When you’re inactive for long periods of time, your knees can lock up, reducing your full capabilities of motion. Gentle exercise like walking or swimming keeps your joints moving smoothly and maintains flexibility, which is important when you’re faced with the potential of limited mobility. Your doctor or physical therapist will most likely give you specific flexing and extending knee exercises that are designed for arthritis patients.
Fight knee arthritis through your diet. Following a healthy, low-fat diet helps you manage your weight—an important factor for anyone with arthritis—and gives you all the vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy. Focus on lean meats, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, and plenty of fresh produce, while limiting sodium and fats. People with knee OA may want to boost the omega-3 and flavonoid content of their diets with foods such as:
- red apples
- red onion
- flaxseed products
- passion fruit
Unfortunately, some OA of the knee patients may not respond well to medications, diet, or lifestyle measures. For this population, surgery is a last-resort option to manage the pain and mobility issues that this condition presents. Surgical solutions for knee arthritis include:
- arthroscopy: a minimally invasive procedure to fix torn cartilage and remove scar tissue and other debris
- osteotomy: realigns the knee joint to improve mobility
- cartilage grafting: replaces lost cartilage with soft tissue harvested from your body
- total knee replacement: replaces the damaged bones and tissues with an artificial knee joint
Arthritis has no cure, and must be managed carefully to slow the progression of the disease. If you think you might have OA of the knee, don’t delay. Consult your doctor as soon as possible to put together a treatment plan as early as you can. Early treatment can go a long way toward keeping you healthy and active.
- Arthritis of the Knee. (2007, October). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00212
- Farid, R. et al. (2010, September). Oral intake of purple passion fruit peel extract reduces pain and stiffness and improves physical function in adult patients with knee osteoarthritis. Nutr Res., 30(9), 601-606. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20934601
- Knee braces. (2013, July 17). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/knee-braces/MY00137
- Knott, L. et al. (2011, September). Regulation of osteoarthritis by omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids in a naturally occurring model of disease. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, 19(9), 1150-1157. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3176911/
- Osteoarthritis. (2011, September 26). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001460/