Whether you’re on the field, on the court, or just pounding the pavement, osteoarthritis of the knee can make it difficult to live an active lifestyle. Knee pain can strike anyone at any time, and one of the most common causes of knee pain is osteoarthritis.
There are many types of arthritis, but osteoarthritis is the most common. Osteoarthritis can, and does, affect many joints in the body. However, the knee is the joint which is most commonly affected. Osteoarthritis is literally a wearing away of the white shiny cartilage which coats the bones, which is called articular cartilage. This is analogous to the glistening cartilage at the end of a chicken bone. Osteoarthritis may eventually result in painful bone-on-bone contact.
The prevalence of osteoarthritis of the knee has doubled since the 1950s for a variety of reasons. These include longer life spans as well as the continued participation in sports and high impact exercises of individuals into their 6th, 7th, and even 8th decade of life.
Individuals with osteoarthritis of the knee can still lead healthy, active lifestyles. Here are some tips to keep your knee osteoarthritis under control and to help you keep doing the things you love.
Exercising With Knee Osteoarthritis
Not only can you exercise with knee osteoarthritis, you should. A large review of scientific literature suggests that provided you keep your knees safe, exercise won’t speed up the degradation of cartilage. Even better, exercise is likely to reduce pain, help you move better and reduce your chances of disability.
That part about keeping your knees safe is important. How do you do that? One of the best ways is exercise selection: Pick exercises that are low- or no-impact. While running is one of the best forms of exercise available, every time your foot hits the pavement, track or treadmill, force travels up from the ground and through your legs. That could be thousands of times, even for a short run. The result is that a high-impact form of exercise like running can really do a number on your knees…knees that are already sore and inflamed.
The solution is to go for lower-impact exercises. Think about forms of exercise that don’t include that type of jolt you get from your foot hitting the ground. Luckily, there’s a large variety of low- or no-impact exercises to choose from, including:
- Elliptical machines
- Stair climber machines
Weight and Your Knees
The knee is a weight-bearing joint, which could partly explain why it is so susceptible to osteoarthritis. If you’re carrying extra weight, your knees are working harder than they have to be. According to the Arthritis Foundation, every extra pound puts four extra pounds of pressure on the knees. Excess weight is a well-known risk factor for osteoarthritis.
There are no known diets proven to help osteoarthritis symptoms. There’s no superfood, no magical combination of vitamins and minerals that will take the pain away. However, eating right is one of the best things you can do for your knee osteoarthritis, for two reasons.
First, a balanced nutrition plan will help keep excess weight off. Weight loss is a simple (not easy) math problem. If the number of calories you burn is greater than the number of calories you eat, you lose weight. That’s all there is to it. Keeping your eating in check will keep your weight in check, and your knees will thank you for it.
You could just eat whatever you want and exercise more, but that’s tough to do. Let’s say you’ve chosen cycling as your low-impact exercise. Going at a moderate pace, a 185-pound adult will burn about 600 calories in an hour. If you eat even one 300-calorie donut, that’s an extra half hour you’ll have to peddle. Isn’t it easier to just not eat the donut?
That math problem works every time, which brings me to the second reason to eat a sensible diet. You could technically lose on an all-donut diet as long as you exercise enough. However, if you have a poor nutritional profile, exercise is the last thing you’ll want to do. You need a good mix of protein, carbohydrates and dietary fat, as well as the proper levels of vitamins and minerals, if you want to have enough energy to exercise and live a healthy lifestyle.
When Lifestyle Changes Are Not Enough
But what happens if you’re getting enough exercise, eating well and maintaining a healthy body weight, and your knee osteoarthritis is still bothering you? Not to fear; there are many treatments available for people with knee osteoarthritis.
At Summit Medical Group, we believe in being conservative. That means we won’t recommend surgery unless it’s truly necessary, and that means starting out with more conservative treatments. These can include:
- Anti-inflammatory medications, both prescription-strength and over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen
- Corticosteroid injections
- Hyaluronate sodium injections
- Ice and heat therapy
- Physical therapy
If surgery becomes necessary, there are options. Surgeons can remove damaged tissue from the knee in a process called debridement. Cartilage grafting—where healthy cartilage is taken from either your own knee or from a donor and is surgically attached over worn-away articular cartilage—is another option.
If your knee osteoarthritis is in its early stages and affects only one side of a knee, an osteotomy may help. This procedure involves surgically reshaping the bones of the knee (the shinbone and/or the thigh bone) to relieve the grinding and pressure on an arthritic knee.
Finally, when all else fails, partial or total knee replacement is available. This is when damaged cartilage and bone is removed and replaced with metal and plastic components. Also known as knee arthroplasty, knee replacement is a safe and effective surgery and one in which people who have had it report greater quality of life.
If you have knee pain, we can help. As an athlete myself—I’ve played tennis for most of my life—I know what it’s like to be sidelined by pain in the knees. Whether your pain is acute or chronic, caused by osteoarthritis or something else, schedule an appointment with me or one of my colleagues and we’ll help get you back to living the lifestyle you love.