by Jodeann Cooley, PTA
Osteoarthritis is commonly known as wear and tear arthritis. OA is the most common type of arthritis. More than 27 million people in the U.S. have OA, and knees are the most commonly affected area. Osteoarthritis is caused when the natural cushioning between joints (cartilage) wears away. This causes the bones of the knee to rub closer together. This rubbing results in pain, swelling, stiffness, decreased ability to move, and sometimes, bone spurs.
- Age-People have an increased chance of developing OA after the age of 45, though younger people can get it too.
- Gender-Women are more likely to develop OA than men are.
- Weight-Being overweight puts significantly more stress on the joints, especially the knees.
- Weakness-Decreased strength in the muscles of the knees can lead to OA.
- Repetitive Stress Injuries-These injuries can be the result of jobs that require a lot of kneeling, squatting, and lifting heavier weights regularly.
- Athletes-Especially sports such as soccer, tennis and long-distance running.
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis in the Knee
These symptoms usually come on gradually, and will worsen over months or years if the issue isn’t treated.
- Pain that increases with activity and decreases with rest. You may also have constant low levels of dull pain, achiness, or sharp and intense pain.
- Swelling in the knee joint.
- Stiffness, especially first thing in the morning or after prolonged sitting.
- Decreased mobility-This may cause difficulty sitting and standing from a chair, getting in and out of a car, going up or down the stairs or walking. You may not be able to completely bend or straighten your knee.
- Creaking or crackling in the knee with movement.
- Buckling or locking of the knee.
Goals of treatment are to relieve pain, return mobility and limit the progression of damage. Early treatment can significantly slow or eliminate the progress of symptoms and damage to the knee joints.
- Weight loss: This helps to unload some of the pressure off of the knee joints.
- Pain relievers: These are a good option for short-term relief, but long-term use can cause stomach ulcers, cardiovascular problems or kidney and liver damage. They also don’t slow down the advancement of OA.
- Injections: These are for temporary relief and usually last for about 2 months. Most doctors will only administer these 3-4 times per year.
- Surgery: This includes a total knee replacement and a partial knee replacement. This isn’t usually the first choice because the recovery time is several weeks or months. Surgery is typically done after other treatments have been used.
- Physical Therapy: PT uses strengthening and stretching to help with function for daily activities and increase quality of life. Prescribed exercises will strengthen the knees so they can better support the knee joint, which in turn puts less stress on the damaged cartilage and bone. Stretching will make knees more mobile and flexible. Exercises also help with pain, and can help avoid surgeries, injections and pain medications.
Best Exercises for Osteoarthritis of the Knees
Three good beginner exercises are the following:
- Quad Sets: Tighten your thigh and push your knee down into the bed.
- Straight Leg Raise: Start with knee straight out and the other knee bent. Lift leg straight up towards ceiling. Pause, then lower.
- Sit to Stand: Try these exercises 2-3 times per day. Walking is also a good exercise. However, walking on a treadmill or on uneven surfaces can make discomfort worse due to the higher impact to the knees.
If you have increased pain in the knees or you aren’t noticing improvements in 2 weeks with these exercises, request an appointment with one of our movement specialists at Kinetic Edge Physical Therapy for an evaluation and an exercise program for your specific needs. You don’t have to live with the discomfort of OA of the knees; we can help you restore hope through movement!