Dr. Miho J. Tanaka, MD, is the director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Program at John Hopkins Medicine and former associate team physician for the St. Louis Cardinals.
We asked Dr. Tanaka to discuss symptoms and risk factors of OA of the knee, as well as ways to manage the associated pain so that the condition doesn’t stop you from enjoying the activities you love.
What is osteoarthritis?
“Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative condition of joints that leads to breakdown of the cartilage and eventually the underlying bone in the joints. This can lead to pain, swelling, and decreased mobility in the joint.”
Who is at risk of developing osteoarthritis?
“Osteoarthritis is generally a disease of aging, through progressive ‘wear and tear.’ Some people can develop this earlier as result of a traumatic injury. Studies are ongoing to determine who is more likely to develop osteoarthritis, as there appears to be a hereditary component as well.”
What are the most common symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee?
“Symptoms of osteoarthritis include pain, swelling, and stiffness in the knee that is typically worse after increased activities.”
What can a patient do to lessen the effects of osteoarthritis of the knee?
“While the effects of osteoarthritis cannot be reversed, plenty of things can be done to minimize the symptoms and flares that one can get from this condition. Avoiding the triggers and activities that cause pain and swelling can be helpful. Strengthening the surrounding muscles and limiting impact activities can decrease stress on the joint. Weight loss can also improve joint pain. Anti-inflammatory medication can also help symptoms when they occur.”
What are the best treatment options available for the pain associated with OA of the knee?
“Multiple treatment options are available for osteoarthritis. Conservative measures include anti-inflammatory medication to control the inflammation and physical therapy to strengthen the surrounding muscles. Cortisone injections are also helpful in treating pain, as an anti-inflammatory is injected directly into the joint. Viscosupplementation injections mimic the lubricant within the joint and can help with symptoms, as can bracing in certain cases. Finally, in severe cases, partial or total joint replacement is an option for those who have had symptoms despite the above measures.”
What are some exercises that someone suffering from OA can use to lessen their pain and stay active?
“Quadriceps and hamstring; core strengthening exercises are important in strengthening the surrounding muscles so as to minimize the stress on the joint. These muscles help maintain proper gait and posture mechanics.”
What more can you recommend to help a person with OA of the knee stay active?
“Low-impact activities are a great way to remain active while minimizing stress on the knee. These include swimming or water aerobics, bicycling, and using the elliptical machine.”