24% of all American adults suffer from arthritis. Arthritis is not a specific disease per se but a degenerative condition of the joints. Knee arthritis can affect anyone of any age, although it is more common in athletes or other highly active individuals and older people. In these patients, their cartilage has been worn down or become inflamed from age and overuse due to the cumulative stress on their joints over time. If you have knee arthritis, you should have a doctor assess the damage to your knees to determine your best options for preventing further degeneration or, if necessary, having arthritis treated.
When you get examined, your doctor will likely tell you at what stage your arthritis is. Stage 0 means that you have virtually no arthritis. In that case, your best option is to do what you can to prevent arthritis from developing and undergo regular check-ups to monitor your condition. Stages 1 and 2, however, mean that you have mild to moderate arthritis. If you want to stop your knee arthritis from getting worse, it will be necessary to change your lifestyle. Depending upon how much the arthritis is inhibiting your activities, you may want to consider more direct treatments.
If you have Stage 3 or 4 arthritis in the knee, you will exhibit significant symptoms. You will likely find regular tasks like walking and bending difficult. At these stages, you may be able to take advantage of non- or minimally-invasive treatments. At Stage 5, a patient can no longer move without severe pain, and the cartilage in the knee is almost completely gone. Stage 5 patients will need joint reconstructive surgery to resume an active life.
Here are what some of those treatments may look like.
Changing Your Lifestyle
Your habits, as well as your overall health, can affect your arthritis. If you are overweight, one critical step you can take to ease the stress on your knee joints is to lose weight. Your knees support your whole body, and with each step you take, you put 1.5 times your body weight on the knee. Losing weight will alleviate some of the strain you put on your knee joints.
Exercise can help but refrain from high-impact activities, which can worsen your symptoms and contribute to further degeneration. Choose low-impact exercises like cycling, swimming, walking, and yoga. When you strengthen your muscles, you can use your muscles to absorb some of the impacts of your movements, transferring the stress from your knees to your leg muscles.
Certain foods can also reduce or increase the inflammation in your joints. Increase your intake of healthy fat and proteins, fruits and vegetables, and foods with omega-3 fatty acids. Some spices also act as anti-inflammatories. In contrast, nicotine, alcohol, and illegal drugs can increase inflammation and should therefore be avoided.
Non-Invasive or Minimally Invasive Treatments
At Stages 2 to 4, lifestyle changes may not be enough. To address pain, you can take over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatories, and you may need to apply heat or ice when knee pain is severe. It may also be helpful to wear a sleeve over your knee if your arthritis is causing you discomfort. Your doctor might also recommend ointments that relieve pain. In some cases, a corticosteroid injection can relieve pain for an extended period, although the pain often returns, and you cannot keep taking these shots indefinitely. For people with rheumatoid arthritis, you may be able to use disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs.
Arthritis is degenerative, which means that it generally gets worse over time. To prevent severe symptoms, visit a joint specialist, undergo an exam, explain your symptoms, and ask the doctor to perform some imaging tests. The doctor can determine the severity of the disease and recommend lifestyle changes, therapies, or even oral or topical medications. After your initial consultation, book an appointment with your doctor at least twice a year to monitor the situation. With appropriate steps, you may be able to avoid surgery.
Joint Reconstructive Surgery
If you have Stage 5 knee arthritis, there is virtually no cartilage left in your knee to cushion the impact of your bones. When bone grinds directly upon bone, it is extremely painful, and there is usually no remedy outside of getting the entire joint replaced with a prosthesis. Thankfully, knee replacement surgery is a relatively standard and routine surgical procedure today. Total knee replacements can be done in an outpatient setting, and modern prosthetic knees are robust and reliable. After recovery, knee replacement surgery can relieve knee pain and restore function, and your new knee should last two decades or more. Even more, knee replacement can prolong your life overall because it will enable you to engage in activities like walking that can provide health benefits to your whole being.
In some cases of knee arthritis, full recovery isn’t always possible without surgery. However, before taking that step, talk to your doctor about what steps you can take to mitigate your symptoms and slow down the disease with early treatment and a healthy lifestyle. If you live anywhere in the Los Angeles metro area, Contact the LA knee doctor at Tchejeyan Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine and book a consultation to learn more about knee treatments that can help.