If you’re like a lot of people over age 50, knees that have served you well for years gradually start hurting and swelling. They may start making cracking or popping sounds, and you may even feel a grinding sensation in your knees as you move. Most likely, you’ve developed arthritis of the knee, something we see quite often at Westchester Health.
The term “arthritis” simply means inflammation of a joint and is used to describe 200 rheumatic diseases and conditions that affect joints, the tissues that surround the joint, and other connective tissue. Healthy cartilage is shiny white and smooth, and its function is to allow joints to glide and move smoothly. Arthritis is the damage or loss of this cartilage between bones in a joint. When it is damaged, it results in pain and swelling.
Arthritis can result from many causes:
- Trauma or injury
- Normal wear and tear
The knee joint is the most common joint to develop arthritis
The joint that most frequently develops arthritis is the knee, and osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the knee. This is a degenerative, “wear-and-tear” type of arthritis that occurs most often in people 50 and older, but may occur in younger people, too. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage in the knee joint gradually wears away. Knee pain that wakes you up from sleep can be a symptom of osteoarthritis.
Another type of arthritis that can develop in the knee, usually following an injury to the knee joint, is called post-traumatic arthritis. This can result from a torn meniscus, an injury to a ligament, or a fracture of the knee, sometimes years later.
Arthritis pain can begin suddenly but typically it develops slowly
Knee arthritis pain is usually worse in the morning and after a lot of walking or running. Going up and down stairs is especially painful, as well as squatting. Some of our patients with arthritis say that damp weather or other changes in weather can bring on pain.
5 things you can do to treat knee arthritis without surgery
There are many effective options for relieving the pain of arthritis of the knee and improving joint function before resorting to surgery. Here are the 5 most effective ones:
- Physical therapy. The first line of treatment for arthritis of the knee is physical therapy. Stretching your quadriceps and hamstrings takes stress off the knee. In addition, strengthening these muscles helps maintain proper knee alignment and helps decrease the pain.
- Anti-inflammatories are effective in treating knee swelling and pain for most people.
- Ice is a very safe and effective treatment and should be used after strenuous activity, including extensive walking.
- If your knee pain persists after trying the above three therapies, the next treatment for knee arthritis is injections. Steroid injections work quickly and are effective for most people, but only last an average of 4 weeks. Injections of hyaluronic acid, a natural lubricant and anti-inflammatory, are also very effective and last an average of 6 months but may take a few weeks to work.
- PRP therapy. Another highly-effective type of injection is Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP). In this treatment, platelets are taken from your own blood, spun in a high speed centrifuge and then specific portions are injected into your knee. Many physicians consider PRP treatment to be experimental, but several studies have shown it to be very effective.
Sometimes, knee surgery is your best option
If none of these non-surgical treatments work, your pain is still significant and you cannot function the way you’d like, it may be time to consider knee replacement surgery, one of the most successful surgeries today. The procedure involves removing the damaged cartilage and underlying bone and replacing it with smooth metal and plastic. Pain relief is almost immediate and dramatic.
How to know if you have knee arthritis
Arthritis of the knee is very common but before you begin treatment for it, it’s wise to make sure you have the correct diagnosis. The only way to be certain is to have a thorough physical exam by a specialist.
If you think you have arthritis in one or both of your knees, come see us
If you are experiencing pain, swelling and/or stiffness in your knee(s), please call (914) 232-1919 to make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health rheumatologists or Internal Medicine specialists. If you do in fact have knee arthritis, we can determine the course of action that will give you the best possible outcome. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.