The National Library of Medicine states that 10% of people over 55 in the United States have disabling knee osteoarthritis. If you are one of these people, finding the right treatment can be challenging, especially if you don’t want to become dependent on pain medications or go through an invasive knee surgery.
For some, surgery can be the only option, but for many others, some management strategies and less invasive options could offer relief from symptoms.
What Is Knee Osteoarthritis? Understanding the Symptoms and Causes
Osteoarthritis of the knee occurs when the cartilage in your knee joint starts to break down. This causes the bones to rub together, leading to stiffness, swelling, and pain that can interfere with your life.
Women are more likely to develop knee osteoarthritis, as are people over the age of 40, but genetics and other factors can cause it in younger people.
Pain is the most common symptom of this condition, but there are other signs, including:
- A puffy or swollen knee
- Hearing a grinding or cracking noise when you move
- Knee stiffness
- Knee that locks up or feels stuck
- Knee that feels wobbly
There can be many causes of knee osteoarthritis. Having a body mass index of 30 or more puts pressure on your knees and can cause inflammation. This inflammation can lead to arthritis or make existing arthritis worse.
You can also develop this condition if you suffer a knee injury or have a prior knee injury. If you have close relatives who’ve had knee osteoarthritis, you’re also more likely to struggle with this problem.
If you frequently put stress on your knees, whether by playing sports or as a result of your job, you can also develop osteoarthritis in your knee.
Treating Knee Osteoarthritis
If you have signs of osteoarthritis, there are a number of treatment options you can talk to your doctor about.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
If you have risk factors that can increase your chances of developing knee osteoarthritis or if you already have the condition, ensuring your weight is healthy is vital. The Arthritis Foundation states that being just 10 pounds overweight can put 15 to 50 pounds of extra weight on your knees. That makes the development of osteoarthritis more likely.
Losing weight allows you to reduce some of that strain on your knee joints. Aside from that, losing weight also helps reduce inflammation throughout the body, which can help with arthritis.
Getting Regular Exercise
Those who have knee osteoarthritis can also benefit from getting regular exercise. It can help you lose weight, increase your mobility, and build up muscle strength to support your knee joints.
It is important to choose low-impact aerobics options that are suitable for your health level. These can include:
Riding a stationary bike can be very helpful for maintaining strength in the hamstring muscle groups without putting extra pressure on your knee. It’s best to have a doctor or physical therapist at your side to help you put together an exercise plan.
Using Medications for Pain and Swelling Relief
For people who are dealing with a lot of pain and swelling, one option is to turn to medications. Over-the-counter painkillers are one option, and many of them offer anti-inflammatory properties that help with the swelling that might be impeding you from moving freely.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, as well as acetaminophen for those who can’t take NSAIDs, can be helpful for osteoarthritis pain.
If these aren’t effective, there are prescription options your doctor could recommend. These may include opioids and even injectable steroids for people with severe inflammation.
Prescription medications can cause side effects. Because they don’t actually do anything to heal your body and only help you manage the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis, the moment you stop taking them, the pain and inflammation will usually return.
Turning to Regenerative Medicine
One promising option for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis is regenerative medicine. It is a field of medicine that strives to harness the body’s natural healing powers to make them work in the areas where you need them most. There are a number of treatments, including platelet-rich plasma therapy and stem cell therapy.
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy uses the platelets in your blood, which have clotting abilities and can stimulate many healing processes.
By separating the platelets from the other components in your blood, like white blood cells, red blood cells, and more, and concentrating them in the liquid portion of your blood, you can give the treatment area a boost of growth factors. These growth factors encourage the healing process.
Stem cell therapy uses stem cells gathered from your fat or bone marrow to stimulate the regeneration of damaged tissue. Stem cells have endless regenerative powers, and they’re able to transform into the exact type of cells you need.
Regenerative medicine offers the chance to decrease inflammation in the area, allowing blood to flow more freely and bring with it oxygen and nutrients. Less inflammation can also mean less pain because you aren’t putting as much pressure on nearby nerves.
Another benefit of regenerative medicine is that it is minimally invasive, so you don’t have to worry about a long recovery period. Most people are good candidates for this type of procedure as well.
In severe cases, surgery may be the only way to treat knee osteoarthritis. You can get arthroscopic surgery, which is less invasive because it uses an arthroscope. This is a small camera that guides the surgeon in repairing the damaged area.
A total knee replacement can be another option. It can be done as minimally invasive or open surgery, depending on your overall health.
Stem cell therapy can still apply as a post-surgery option to help speed up recovery and manage inflammation and pain during the healing process.
Getting Relief from Knee Osteoarthritis Symptoms
If you are struggling with knee osteoarthritis, getting relief from the inflammation and pain can mean considering all available treatment options. By turning to your doctor, you can make sure you have the best chance of achieving the help you deserve.