Knee Osteoarthritis, or knee OA, is one of the most common types of arthritis and a main cause of disability among adults, and it’s on the rise. The combination of the global trend towards obesity and an aging population worldwide ensures that knee OA continues to be a problem.
The primary symptoms of knee OA include pain in the knee joint and loss of mobility. It affects 10% of men and 13% of women aged 60 years or older, totaling 240 million people worldwide.
Knee OA is extremely disruptive on people’s lives, severely reducing quality of life, but the good news is that if knee OA is identified and treated early, it is possible to delay the progression of the condition and relieve its symptoms.
Leading Causes of Knee Osteoarthritis
There are a number of factors that can contribute to the progression of knee OA, and generally more than one is present. Here are some of the main factors that increase the risk of developing knee OA:
Osteoarthritis is also known as ‘wear-and-tear’ arthritis. The hard bones that form your joints are cushioned by cartilage, which helps make sure that each part of the joint slides smoothly against each other.
But over time, the cartilage breaks down and the bones rub against each other, which prevents the joint from moving smoothly and can cause pain. The older you are, the more the cartilage is likely to break down.
Additionally, older bones are weaker because you lose bone density as you age, which makes the cartilage and bone of the joints break down even faster. That’s why the risk of knee OA spikes after the age of 60.
Almost twice as many women as men are affected by knee OA. In fact, women aged over 50 are at the highest risk of developing it. It’s thought that this is because after menopause, hormonal changes cause women to lose bone mass faster than men, which increases friction on the joints.
Obesity is the single biggest factor in the development of knee OA. That’s because the more you weigh, the heavier the load that your knee joint has to bear. When you put more pressure and weight on your knee, it increases wear and tear and reduces the strength of your joints, especially if the cartilage of your knee is already beginning to wear away.
Some recent studies have shown that obesity raises your risk of developing knee OA even if you don’t put weight on your knee (for example, among people who are confined to a wheelchair). This suggests that the impact of obesity itself in disrupting your normal metabolism also raises your risk of developing knee OA.
Osteoarthritis has a genetic element. People whose parents have osteoarthritis are at greater risk of developing knee OA than those without any family history of the condition. If osteoarthritis runs in your family, it’s a good idea to do all you can to prevent it from appearing.
Repetitive Stress Injuries
If you repeatedly put strain on your knee joints because of your line of work, you’re also more likely to develop knee OA. This can include workers who have to lift heavy items, kneel, or squat several times every day. Athletes may also be more likely to develop knee OA later in life.
There are also certain illnesses that are associated with a higher risk of knee OA. People with rheumatoid arthritis, abnormal growth hormones, and abnormalities in the joints and bones are at a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis.
What are the Stages of Knee OA?
Knee OA begins with damage to the synovial membranes, the slippery protective covering on your joints that helps them move smoothly. Damage to the synovial membranes results in increased friction between the joint’s surfaces, and eventually the cartilage. Without intervention, the cartilage continues to rub together and eventually breaks down. This results in pain, swelling, stiffness, joint deformity, and an increased risk of fall-related injuries.
The 4 Stages of Knee Osteoarthritis
Minor: In this stage, there is minimum damage to the cartilage and almost no pain or discomfort.
Mild: In this stage, the knee cartilage begins to harden and you may feel joint stiffness and mild pain.
Moderate: In this stage, the gap between your bones becomes narrower and the damage to the cartilage progresses, thinning the protective membranes and leading to more friction. You’ll start to feel more pain and discomfort during day-to-day activities, such as walking, running, and climbing stairs.
Severe: This is the most advanced stage of knee OA. By now, there’s minimum space between the joints, extreme friction, the joint is breaking down swiftly, and there’s constant inflammation. You’ll feel acute pain and experience severe limitations on daily activities.
Non-Pharmacological Treatment for Knee OA
Like many other conditions, prescription medicines are often used as a first-line defense to treat knee OA. However, long-term usage of painkillers can harm your digestive system, causing stomach ache and ulcers, provoke skin allergies, bloating, heartburn, dizziness, and more.
Additionally, if you just use pain medication you’ll fail to address the underlying cause of the pain – namely osteoarthritis.
This is why physical therapy and non-pharmacological treatment is a better choice. Exercise helps strengthen your muscles and improves your mobility, without the risks associated with pain medication, steroids, or other medication.
Prolonged periods of inactivity can lead to muscle deconditioning. To help regain muscle mass, it’s best to carry out strength training. Improving control of muscles around the knee can reduce the pressure on the weakened knee joints and provide relief from pain. This is not easy to do because pain and inflammation can make it hard to bear weight on your legs, let alone undertake strength training. Aquatic therapy is one way to increase your strength while reducing discomfort.
In severe cases of knee osteoarthritis, pain and abnormal movement patterns can affect your balance, increasing the risk of falls. A comprehensive physical therapy treatment plan should include balance training, to lower the risk of fall injuries.
Since obesity is one of the major risk factors for knee OA, it is also one of the main focuses for treatment. Losing weight can help reduce pressure on the joints and stop further damage. Weight loss may also allow the joint to heal better, and also offers a number of other general health benefits.
Physical therapy and physical activity have been proven to be an effective treatment option for knee osteoarthritis, avoiding the negative side effects of long-term medicine use, and helping regain and even improve the strength of muscles and joints.
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Developed by orthopedic and sports medicine specialists, AposHealth® offers a unique approach to the treatment and management of knee osteoarthritis. Using a custom-calibrated device worn on your foot, AposHealth unloads the pressure from painful regions of the knee and helps improve control and coordination of the muscles around your knee45. AposHealth® footworn devices are convenient, affordable, and can be used in conjunction with a range of other therapeutic interventions for knee OA.
Osteoarthritis of the knee is a pervasive and painful disease affecting millions of people globally. As a leading cause of disability, early diagnosis and treatment are critical to the management of knee OA. While pharmaceutical treatments are often regarded as a first-line option, non-pharmaceutical interventions are preferable, thanks to fewer side effects and better long-term results.