Do your knees ache when you walk or use the stairs? Does it worsen after prolonged periods of sitting? Do they crack, pop or grind? If so, you may be experiencing a common diagnosis that affects 240 per 100,000 people per year, osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis (OA), or degenerative joint disease (DJD), is the most common form of arthritis. It is the progressive loss of hyaline cartilage causing the joint to be termed "bone on bone." It disturbs about 14% of adults aged 25 and older and roughly 16% of adults 45 years old and up.
Of those affected, it is more prevalent in women than men. Men have a 45% lower risk of having knee OA than women. According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC) you are at greater risk of getting knee OA if you have: excess body mass, experienced a knee injury (sports, work, trauma), knee pain, hand OA, worked a mechanically stressful job, structural malalignment, or muscle weakness. The CDC also notes you are at greater risk depending on your gender, age, race, and genetic makeup.
Overtime, if you are noticing progressive pain and stiffening of your knee that hasn't gone away for several months, it may be time to go speak with a doctor. Primary care physicians and orthopaedic surgeons are trained to recognize the different signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis. They will look, move, and touch your knee. It may feel warm, be tender to touch, or have increased swelling. Other symptoms may consist of cracking, popping, and grinding when squatting or standing up from a chair. Walking may also be painful. To be certain, doctors may order an x-ray to reveal degenerative changes such as; decreased joint space, osteophytes, and/or bony sclerosis.
After diagnosis, your provider may send you to physical therapy as it's the most conservative form of treatment. According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), "60-70% of people who participated in a physical therapy program did not go on to have surgery. Further, after 1 year those outcomes remained unchanged." A physical therapist will make a program specific to each person's needs. They will look at your range of motion (as most people with knee OA experience decreased motion), muscle strength, and joint mobility. From there, your program may consist of a series of exercises because strength is important to joint health as muscles help control motion and pressure of the joint. The exercise program will challenge muscles of the core, hip, and knee joints. It may also entail gentle joint mobilizations and use of heat or ice.
If you do not see enough benefit from physical therapy, you may be referred on to have an orthopaedic surgeon perform an arthroscopy to clean up the joint. In severe cases a total knee replacement may be suggested.
If you are experiencing the symptoms discussed in this article, there are ways make improvements to your quality of life. Don’t let nagging knee pain limit your daily activity. Please contact your provider for a consult!