What is Knee Arthritis?
Arthritis is the inflammation of one of your joints. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are two of the most common types but there are more than 100 different types of arthritis that affects places like the knees and hips.
We have 360 joints in our bodies and each one of them can potentially get it. Since our knees tend to bear the brunt of our daily activities, however, knee arthritis is one of the most common types.
What Causes Arthritis in Knee?
While there is no one specific cause of arthritis in the knee, there are several factors that can increase the risk of developing the condition. Some of these risk factors include:
Age: The older that you get, the higher your risk.
Gender: Women are more likely than men to suffer from this condition.
Obesity: Being overweight increases the stress on your knee joint and leads to a higher risk of arthritis.
Previous injury: A prior injury to your knee, like a fracture or ligament tear, will increase your risk of developing arthritis.
Genetics: Having a family history of this problem increases your risk of developing it.
Repetitive stress: Jobs or hobbies that involve repetitive movements and stress on your knee joint (like kneeling and squatting) will increase your risk.
Infection or inflammation: When you have an infection or inflammation in your knee joint, you run the risk of damaging your cartilage which can lead to arthritis.
Although each of these risk factors can increase your likelihood, there are no guarantees. Not everyone with these risk factors will develop arthritis and some people without any of these risk factors can still develop it.
If you suspect a ligament tear, perhaps it is time to schedule an appointment with our orthopaedic doctors for ACL tear diagnosis and treatment.
What Does Knee Arthritis Feel Like?
Everyone experiences it a bit differently, depending on the severity of the particular case. If you think that you have symptoms, there are a few common signs that will help you decide.
Common Symptoms of Knee Arthritis
Here are a few things to look out for if you think that you may have arthritis in your knee:
- Click or crack sounds
- Limited range of motion
You may have all of these symptoms or just one. When it comes to knee pain, you’ll find that it can be a sharp or dull pain. You may find that it hurts more after exercise or starts to ache after you have been sitting for a long time, similar to back aches.
Similarly, when you find that your range of motion is limited, that could mean that you can’t fully straighten your leg or it could mean that you can’t bend it properly.
When it comes to stiffness, swelling, and clicking, you’ll find the symptoms a bit easier to predict. Stiffness is very common in the early morning or after periods of inactivity. With swelling, your knee joint will look puffy and become sensitive to touch. If you move your knee, you sometimes may hear clicking or cracking noises.
When to See a Doctor?
If rest and over-the-counter medication are not helping with your pain, it is time to book a doctor’s appointment. Think that it may be an emergency? Here are a few signs that you need to seek urgent care.
- Visible deformity
- Popping noise during the injury
- Knee can’t support your weight
- The pain is intense
- The swelling sudden
What Can Be Done for Knee Arthritis?
You can treat it at home and with a range of treatment options from your doctor. Of course, the only way to find the best treatment for arthritis is to talk with a healthcare professional. It is crucial to have the situation properly assessed and diagnosed. From there, your doctor will recommend the best arthritis treatment plan based on your specific medical history and background.
Do I Need Arthritis Knee Surgery?
In cases of severe arthritis, your doctor might find that pain relievers, lifestyle changes, and physical therapy aren’t enough. In these cases, you may be recommended to try injections or have arthritis surgery.
Injections: Your doctor can inject corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid into your joint to help relieve discomfort and swelling.
Surgery: If your pain is more severe, surgery may be needed. To treat advanced arthritis of the knee, the most common surgical techniques are arthroscopy, osteotomy, and joint replacement surgery.
Only after examining can an arthritis specialist decide what kind of treatment is best. Keep in mind, however, that in all cases, these injections and surgery are not replacements for lifestyle changes and physical therapy. The best strategy is a holistic approach that helps you build strength and improve mobility after any kind of medication, injections, or surgery to help you get on your feet again.
What are the Home Treatments?
One of the first things that most people reach for is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). These include common painkillers like ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and acetaminophen. These are all great short-term options to get rid of pain and reduce inflammation.
What Is the Best Painkiller for Pain?
NSAIDs like ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and acetaminophen are all equally effective. You might consider pain-relieving creams. Your local pharmacy will have a variety of different pain relief creams that will offer more targeted pain relief.
Note: If you opt for a cream for pain relief, avoid using it with pain medication. Using ibuprofen gel along with ibuprofen pills, for example, gives you a dangerously high dose. Proceed with care and be sure to chat with your pharmacist about short-term options like these. If you need pain relief for more than a week, it’s time to talk to your doctor about better options.
Ice vs. Heat
One of the questions we get asked more than anything is about heat vs ice for pain. The truth is that they both work to reduce arthritis pain but you’ve got to be strategic about what you are using and when you are using it.
During the early stages of any kind of pain or injury, your number one priority is to reduce the swelling. As uncomfortable as ice can be on an aching joint, it’s crucial during the first day or two. Especially during that first 24 hours of pain, you will want to ice it for 20 minutes then give yourself a break for two hours or so then go back to icing. As much as possible, keep your knee elevated. Your goal is to have it higher up than your heart. This will make a big difference in your ability to reduce swelling and, ultimately, reduce pain. This method also works for ankle sprains and foot pains.
If this method does not alleviate your ankle pain, it might be a more serious injury and we recommend seeking out ankle injury treatment if possible.
Helpful Tip: We often have the first reaction to try to “walk off” any injury but that is the last thing you want to do. Your knees take a lot of impact in daily life so give them a break when they hurt. Make a commitment to spend 24 hours off your feet as much as possible with a regular schedule of ice compresses.
After the first couple of days of pain has passed, you can move on to heat therapy. A warm compress will help to loosen up and reduce the aches and pains.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Walking Good for Knee Arthritis?
Definitely! If you are already dealing with pain, getting started on an intense training program of weight lifting and aerobics probably sounds intense. That is where walking comes in. Even making a modest increase in the number of steps that you can take each day can make a major difference in both your arthritis pain and overall health.
Walking, along with light yoga is beneficial as long as it is done safely and in moderation. It is a low-impact activity that can help to strengthen the muscles around the joint, improve flexibility, and reduce pain and inflammation. If you are walking outdoors, remember to stay in the shade every now and then and rehydrate to prevent heat injuries.
However, it is important to avoid overdoing it or engaging in activities that put undue stress on the joint, such as running or jumping. It is also important to wear supportive shoes and consider using a brace or other support, as recommended by your doctor, if necessary.
It is important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate level of activity and exercise for your individual case. A physical therapist can also guide proper techniques and exercises to help manage your symptoms.
How to Prevent and Treat Knee Arthritis Without Medication
Lifestyle changes are one of the best ways to deal with arthritis. Maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, and avoiding activities that put too much stress on your joint is key. These simple but effective lifestyle adjustments can reduce or even eliminate pain in your knees in some cases. If you are experiencing discomfort in your knee for other reasons besides arthritis, it is best to speak with our doctors regarding knee pain treatment.
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About the Author
Dr James Tan is a highly skilled orthopaedic surgeon who has more than 10 years of experience in sports surgery and exercise medicine. He is a member of the elite Asian Shoulder and Elbow Group and a founding member of the Singapore Shoulder and Elbow Surgery Society.
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