What can I do to help with Arthritis in my knees?

“Your knees are bone on bone and you’re only 50”.
“You shouldn’t be running with your knees”.
“You need a total knee replacement”.

Sound familiar?

If you’re an Australian in your 40’s or above, chances are you’ve heard one or all of these statements following an episode of knee pain.
These sorts of statements can have an incredibly negative impact not only on a person’s frame of mind, but also on their understanding of arthritis and what can actually be done, outside of surgery, to treat their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

So, if you’ve heard these statements, or something similar, this blog is about to make you feel a whole lot better about yourself, give you far more confidence in your body, and show you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel that doesn’t necessarily involve surgery!

But first let’s take a moment to understand Osteoarthritis (OA) so that it isn’t so daunting.

What are the causes of Knee Osteo – Arthritis (OA)?
First and foremost, OA is a completely normal part of the aging process that occurs primarily in weight baring joints such as the lower back, hips and in this blogs case, and most commonly throughout people all over the world, knees. It is the normal process of the articular cartilage within our joints as a result of repetitive loading over time. Over time the structure of the cartilage changes as a normal result of the pressure applied.
This is neither good, nor bad. It’s just a result of our lifestyle, work, diet, exercise and the aging process.

Why does Knee Osteo – Arthritis (OA) hurt?
The majority of people experiencing OA will also have experienced some deconditioning, or weakening of the surrounding muscles of the knee and leg. This is often because they have experienced pain during times of increased movement and then learn to avoid those aggravating activities.

The interesting thing to understand here is that with a decrease in strength comes an increase in the compression of the articular surface of the joint because the muscles are no longer strong enough to help absorb the forces that move through the knee as well as they could when they were strong. This then causes an increase in painful symptoms and a tendency to avoid activity, which can result in a greater pain response and behaviours associated with fear and avoidance of movement.

What are the symptoms of knee arthritis?
The most common symptoms of OA in the knee are typically one, or a combination of the following;
-Pain during activity
-Stiffness, or a loss of movement in the knee, particularly in the morning
-Pain with and following prolonged rest i.e. sitting or lying for a long time
-Swelling in and around the knee

What are the treatment options of Knee Osteo – Arthritis (OA)?
As you may have heard, surgery is one option for Knee – Osteo Arthritis. There are also non-operative methods with a huge amount of research behind that require a far shorter recovery period than operative methods.

What does this mean? In many cases, non-operative methods achieve results in a shorter amount of time than surgical options.

The primary, and most effective non-surgical treatment for knee OA is exercise and activity based therapy. This can include:
-Resistance training
-Pilates
-Hydrotherapy
-Activity Modification

Also things like:
-Education
-Weight loss support (a loss of 10% of body weight will decrease pain by up to 50%)

How do I know what treatment option is the right one for me?
The benefits of individualised Knee OA programs are incredibly well documented in studies and research, so much so that non-operative management is the recommended primary treatment option in most cases of knee OA. However the most important thing to consider when we we use research to guide our decision making, is to also consider what outcomes are important for you to achieve in your life. The best way to understand what treatment options are right for you is to start a conversation with your a trusted health care provider who has an interest in Knee OA. From there you can expect to be empowered with education and the guidance to find the best option for you.

Written by:
Brad Jones,
Physiotherapist,
Proactive Health & Movement