Knee osteoarthritis is a result of deterioration of cartilage between the bones of the knee. When this happens, the bones start to come into contact with each other when you move your knee. As a result, this injury is known as a “wear and tear” type of disease. The main symptom of this condition is knee pain and inflammation, as well as tenderness and warmth of the knee. Some individuals will also develop bone spurs as a result of this condition. Some of the key risk factors leading to knee osteoarthritis are age, body weight and gender. To treat knee osteoarthritis, your doctor will usually aim to reduce your pain and discomfort as it is not possible to stop or reverse the cartilage deterioration. In severe cases, doctors may suggest various types of knee surgery of which knee replacement is usually the most aggressive option.
What Types Of Knee Osteoarthritis Are There?
There are 3 knee bones that can play a role in the development of this condition – the femur (thighbone), patella (knee cap) and tibia (shinbone).
If your osteoarthritis is a result of deterioration of cartilage between the patella and the femur, you are suffering from patellofemoral osteoarthritis.
The cartilage between your femur and your tibia is in the form of two C shaped pieces and are known as menisci. If you are losing this cartilage between your tibia and femur, the diagnosis will be tibiofemoral osteoarthritis.
Another way of classifying the various types of knee osteoarthritis is into the primary and secondary categories:
Primary osteoarthritis represents deterioration of the knee cartilage for an unknown reason;
Secondary osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage deterioration is due to known reasons. One such reason may be irregular distribution of force across the joint due to a congenital defect in the knee joint. Another may be excess weight. There are many other factors that can cause secondary osteoarthritis, including joint instability, previous injury, family history and dietary problems (e.g. rickets)
In all cases, knee osteoarthritis usually comes on gradually and is not the result of a sudden traumatic injury like a fall or a blow to the knee.
Some of the key factors that increase the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis include the following:
Being over the age of 55. Individuals in this age group are more susceptible to this type of arthritis as their cartilage is less likely to recover from injury;
Gender, as females tend to develop it more than males;
Being overweight can also increase the risk, as this places more pressure on your joints and also on the cartilage between your knee bones;
Heredity is also a factor, as the condition appears to be related to genetic factors;
Overuse injuries of the knee, if not properly treated, can increase the risk that knee osteoarthritis develops later on;
Weakness of the muscles surrounding the knee also makes you more susceptible to this condition;
Extensive participation in sports that place great pressure on the knees (e.g. sports with plenty of running or jumping) is also a risk factor.
Symptoms Of Knee Osteoarthritis
Symptoms of this condition include the following:
Pain, especially when you attempt to move your knee, and even moreso when you run, jump or engage in other vigorous physical activity;
Pain when you try to move your knee after a sedentary period;
Knee stiffness, especially upon awakening in the morning;
Restricted knee movement (less range of motion of the joint);
An occasional crackling or popping sound from the knee.
Treatment Of Knee Osteoarthritis
In treating your knee osteoarthritis, your doctor will typically start with a conservative approach and then move to surgical intervention if the conservative approach is not successful.
It is important to appreciate that the cartilage deterioration that causes osteoarthritis cannot be stopped or reversed. As a result, the goal of conservative treatments will be to reduce the pain and discomfort you are suffering and to slow the rate of cartilage deterioration.
Conservative Treatment Methods
The conservative treatment approach can include the following:
Advising the patient on weight loss strategies in order to reduce the wear and tear on knee cartilage;
Pain control medication such as Tylenol or Advil.;
Use of heat therapy for additional pain control. Moist heat packs can sometimes be particularly effective in reducing arthritic pain;
Consulting with a physiotherapist to design an exercise program to strengthen the muscles around the knee;
Wearing an unloader knee brace to shift the point of contact between the knee bones to an area with healthier cartilage;
Consulting with an occupational therapist for advice on how to perform everyday activities around your home with less pain.
If conservative treatments fail, your doctor may suggest surgical intervention to address your knee osteoarthritis. This can take one of the following forms:
Athroscopic surgery to remove damaged cartilage between the knee bones and perform additional repairs;
Surgery to reshape the knee bones and reduce the contact area between them;
Knee joint replacement surgery. This involves replacing your natural knee joint with an artificial one made from metal or plastic.