By Rehan Iqbal
Osteoarthritis (aka: wear & tear arthritis) is a common problem. In fact over thirty-million people have this condition, which is caused by day-to-day wear on the bones and joints. It is most common for older people to experience osteoarthritis, but it is certainly possible for younger people to develop the condition if their joints are subject to a lot of use. It is unsurprising that the knees are most frequently affected by this form of arthritis.
The older you are, the more likely you are to develop this condition. Every decade you add to your life increases your factor of risk. People between age 55 to 64 are most likely to develop pain and symptoms, but it is smart to start being vigilant for symptoms after the age of 45.
People who are overweight are also more likely to develop osteoarthritis due to the stress excess weight puts on the knees and other joints.
Prior military service is another risk factor. Marching and military service in general can be very hard on your knees.
Professional or avid athletes and weight lifters are also more prone to the development of osteoarthritis.
People who stand or walk a great deal for work (e.g. postal workers) also tend to develop osteoarthritis.
People who wear damaging shoes (e.g. high heels) are more likely to develop osteoarthritis in the knees, and indeed, women are more likely to have osteoarthritis than men.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, a metabolic disorder or an imbalance of growth hormones, you are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
There is also some speculation that the condition may be hereditary. This can be caused by genetic mutations that make arthritis development more likely. It is also possible to simply inherit badly put together knees.
How Do You Know You Have Osteoarthritis?
Pain in the knees is a dead giveaway. If your knees hurt while you are moving about and/or after, suspect osteoarthritis. This is especially true if they are also sensitive to touch.
Sometimes, osteoarthritic knees will feel stiff and sore from lack of movement. If you’ve been sitting or lying down for quite a while, and you find that you have difficulty flexing your knees and/or they hurt when you start to move about, suspect osteoarthritis.
Crepitation is another clue that you have arthritic knees. If your knees creak, crack, make a grating sound and/or cause you to feel a grating sensation, suspect osteoarthritis. Crepitation is caused by bone rubbing on bone because the cartilage that pads your joints has become torn and/or worn. Continued grinding away may cause bone spurs to develop.
How Can You Prevent & Manage Knee Osteoarthritis?
Maintaining lifelong, overall good health practices can help you prevent development of this condition. Even if you already have osteoarthritis, improving your lifestyle can help manage the pain and prevent worsening symptoms.
Generally speaking, if you want to avoid/manage osteoarthritis, you should eat a healthy diet, get plenty of rest, participate in regular, light-to-moderate, low impact exercise and make judicious use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation and pain.
While it is possible to improve your lifestyle and develop good self care habits on your own, don’t downplay the value of seeking professional help and advice. The coordinated efforts of your medical doctor, physical therapist, podiatrist and a good nutritionist can truly help you put together a program that will really work to manage your knee pain.
What Kinds Of Exercises Are Best For Managing Osteoarthritic Knees?
When choosing exercises to strengthen the muscles surrounding your knees, keep your tendons and ligaments flexible and reduce pain, seek out low impact activities that provide light-to-moderate exercise and bring you enjoyment.
It’s important they you choose activities you like. You will be more likely to participate if you are having a good time, and the feel-good endorphins generated by having fun benefit your overall health and help with healing of all sorts.
Can You Continue To Participate In Sports With Arthritic Knees?
Generally speaking, you should not partake of high impact sports, such as racquetball, tennis, football, running, etc. This sort of activity can cause damage to your knees, and you are very likely to injure yourself.
If you have been an avid participant in a very active sport, talk with your doctor or physical therapist about continuing to participate cautiously and/or finding other activities that you can truly enjoy.
Should You Work Through Knee Pain When Exercising?
No matter what sort of exercise you are doing (or what sort of pain you are experiencing) if exercise causes joint pain, or any sharp pain, you should stop. Talk with your doctor or physical therapist to determine exactly what the problem is and identify ways that you can get the benefits of the exercise without causing pain and damage.
Note that if your knees feel very painful, hot or swollen, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. It’s a good idea to follow rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) protocol right away if you must wait for your appointment. This safe practice will help reduce pain and swelling and prevent further damage.
What Is The Goal Of Exercise For Knees With Osteoarthritis?
When you exercise your arthritic knees, you want to focus on keeping the ligaments and tendons flexible and strengthening the muscles that support your knee joints. When your ligaments and tendons are flexible, you are more likely to want to stay active. Keeping your leg muscles strong helps hold your knee joint in alignment to prevent more damage and pain.
What Should You Do If Your Knees Feel Stiff And Sore?
If you just aren’t up to a full workout because of tendon, ligament and muscle stiffness, scale it down and focus on gentle stretching. Use heat to help loosen up stiff knees.
Switch up your exercise routine as needed. If your knees are too stiff and sore to walk or cycle, go swimming instead. Just be sure to do something every day.
No matter what sort of exercise you choose, remember to start by warming up with some gentle stretches. When you are done, cool down in the same way. This smart habit will go far to help prevent and alleviate stiffness.
How Does Losing Weight Help Your Knees?
The more weight you put on your knees (and your lower back, hips, ankles and feet) the more work they will have to do. This adds up to wear and tear and the eventual destruction of the cartilage that pads your joints.
Sometimes losing as little as five pounds can make a noticeable difference in the amount of pain you feel in your knees and other joints. In fact, losing weight may be all you need to do in order to be able to move about comfortably and pain free.
How Can You Support Your Knees To Avoid Pain?
Keeping your knees aligned and limiting the amount your knee-cap slides around will help a great deal in reducing knee pain. To this end, you should always wear good quality, supportive footwear that is appropriate to your chosen activity.
It can also be extremely helpful to wear a knee brace. There are many good choices in over-the-counter (OTC) braces that work well to keep your knee cap in place and your knee properly supported. Talk with your doctor and/or physical therapist to get good advice on choosing the right knee brace to meet your needs.
What If Your Knee Symptoms Get Worse?
If your pain worsens; if you suffer an injury; if your knee locks, or if any other dramatic change occurs, see your doctor right away. This may be an indication that your condition has worsened, so your doctor will want to make adjustments to your treatment and pain management plan.
For example, if you have been relying on OTC NSAIDs for pain management, your doctor may decide it’s time to try an injection of corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid, or perhaps it may be time to consider surgical options.
Surgical management of osteoarthritic knees may involve:
Staying Active Keeps Life Fun, Even With Osteoarthritis
In the old days, people thought that having arthritis meant the end of fun and activity and the start of a downward slide of stiffness and pain. Today, we know that this isn’t true. We have learned that activity and good health habits can make a tremendous difference in your ability to live a happy, active life with osteoarthritis. Additionally, medications, treatments and corrective surgery have all improved in recent years. Follow the tips presented here to continue living your best life, even with osteoarthritic knees.