Osteoarthritis of the knee is very common. This is probably because your knee has to take extreme stresses, twists and turns.
Osteoarthritis can affect the main surfaces of your knee joint and also the cartilage underneath your kneecap. Therefore:
- – You are most likely to feel pain at the front and sides of your knee.
- – If you have severe osteoarthritis, your knees may become bent and bowed.
- – Your knee joint may also become unstable, so that it gives way when you put weight on it. This is usually because of muscle weakness in the thigh, but sometimes it’s due to damage to the ligaments.
Who gets it?
It is twice as common in women as against men, and usually affects both knees. Most problems occur from the late 50s onwards. A number of factors can increase one’s risk, for example:
- – being overweight
- – an earlier sporting injury (such as a torn meniscus or ligament)
- – an operation to remove torn cartilage (meniscectomy.
- – Pain – This is the main symptom suffered, and can occur either alone, or with the other symptoms below. Pain can occur during activities, and after resting for a long time, along with stiffness. This can impact on muscles working, causing them to become weaker. If this happens, the joint is not as well supported and can cause further pain.
- – Swelling – May occur during times of flare-ups and increased pain.
- – Decreased strength– Can result from unused muscles, due to pain and swelling in the joint.
- – Clicking – Could happen during movements such as walking up and down the stairs, and while bending. Worn cartilage is the cause.
- – Stiffness – Usually worse for people first thing in the morning, after the knee has been inactive during the night, or after inactivity for a long time. Decreased movement can result.
- – Functional Difficulties i.e. walking – Walking long distances or climbing stairs may cause an increase in pain or swelling, the outcome of stiffness and decreased strength.
Symptoms can also increase with the weather, especially during damp weather or low pressure. Other people find that doing too much activity makes their pain worse.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis. However, there are many ways it can be managed to minimise the symptoms, and protect the knee joint from further deterioration.
- – Applying heat to the affected knee for 10-20 minutes can help ease your pain. This can be in the form of heat pads. Cover the heat pad, hot water bottle and heat bag with a towel to avoid burning the skin.
- – Cold can also help, especially during the first 24-48 hours of a flare up, or when you notice that the knee is red, hot and swollen. Cover the cold pack with a damp cloth, before applying to the knee, and leave it for 10-20 mins.
- – Using a walking stick held on the opposite hand of the affected knee, will help reduce the pressure or compressive force on the knee joint, enabling you to walk with less pain.
- – It is important to help maintain your knee movements and avoid joint stiffness, to strengthen the muscles around the knee joint, and to keep you fit.
- – If possible, do regular walks, but make sure that you rest in between.
- – Also, pace your activities. Try to plan out your day and break up the difficult jobs into chunks, and do something that you can easily manage.
- – Swimming, and use of an exercise bike help improve fitness as well.
Losing weight will decrease the added pressure on your knee joints. Even losing a modest amount can make a difference in your joints.
- Your doctor/podiatrist may refer you to a physiotherapist if you need extra help and advice to manage your symptoms.
- The Physiotherapist will complete a thorough examination of your knee and, if appropriate, use specific techniques such as manual therapy, acupuncture, or electrotherapy to help minimise your discomfort.
However, the foundation of all physiotherapy for arthritic knees is specific exercises to maintain/improve the movement and strength of your knee; try these:
- – Gently bend and straighten your knee by sliding your foot towards and away from your buttocks. Do this alternately with the other leg and repeat this 10 times.
- – Keep the other knee bent and the affected leg straight. Tighten up the top muscle on the thigh of the affected leg. Keep it straight as you pull your toes up towards you and raise the leg about 20-30 inches off the floor or bed. Hold this for 5-10 seconds and repeat 10 times. Repeat the exercise on the other leg.
- – If you find it difficult to do exercise #2, place a rolled towel or cushion under the affected knee and raise your heel as you pull your toes up towards you. Tighten the muscles on the top of your thigh to straighten your leg, keeping the affected knee on the pillow. Hold for 5 seconds, and repeat 10 times on either leg.
A Podiatrist can assess your gait and foot posture, prescribe insoles or arch supports, and give you advice on footwear to help improve your alignment in the legs and feet, minimising undue stress in your joint.
- – Painkillers or analgesics can help reduce the pain and stiffness, but they will not be able to repair the damage in your joints. They are best taken when you are in pain, or before you exercise.
Your feet mirror your general health . . . cherish them!