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Knee Osteoarthritis

What Is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a very common condition that often described as 'wear and tear' and is considered to be a condition that only the older generation suffer from. This is not always the case. Osteoarthritis can be easily diagnosed with an X-ray early stages can be to see in any given joint from the age of about 30. Not many 30 year olds struggle with pain caused by osteoarthritis and this is largely due to the fact that they are strong and active which plays an enormous role in pain experienced form an osteoarthritic joint.

What Does Osteoarthritis Look Like?

The knee joint is comprised of 3 bones, the thigh bone (femur), the shin bone (tibia) and the kneecap ( patella). Covering the end each of these bones is cartilage which allows for a

smooth movement of the joint and protects the bones. If there is a reduction in the amount of cartilage covering the bones this is known as osteoarthritis. This reduction of cartilage

puts more pressure on the ends of the bones that are less protected. Therefore, your body deposits more calcium to those areas of bone which is known as sclerosis and can be picked up on x-ray. The third feature is additional bone growth around the margins of the joint line, these can cause clicking within the joint and are known as osteophytes.

Causes of osteoarthritis

As part of normal life, your joints are exposed to a constant low level of damage. In most cases, your body repairs the damage itself and you do not experience any symptoms.

But in osteoarthritis, the protective cartilage on the ends of your bones breaks down, causing pain, swelling and problems moving the joint. Bony growths can develop, and the area can become red and swollen.

The exact cause is not known, but several things are thought to increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis, including:

  • joint injury – overusing your joint when it has not had enough time to heal after an injury or operation

  • other conditions (secondary arthritis) – osteoarthritis can happen in joints severely damaged by a previous or existing condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout or psoriasis.

  • age – your risk of developing the condition increases as you get older.

  • family history – osteoarthritis may run in families, although studies have not identified a single gene responsible

  • obesity – being obese puts excess strain on your joints, particularly those that bear most of your weight, such as your knees and hips

  • being a woman – osteoarthristis is more common in women than men.

How to Treat Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis can be treated in a variety of different ways. often the first line of treatment will be non invasive options such as:

  • Strengthening exercises: Strengthening the muscles the cross the knee ,such as the quadriceps at the front as well as the hamstrings and calf muscles at the back, will support the knee. This will mean when moving there will be less stress on the knee joint and therefor less aggravation of the osteoarthritis within it.

  • Supports/Braces: A knee brace or support can be an effective way of providing stability to the knee quickly. In cases when the knee is giving way a brace may be a good thing to invest in. This will assist the muscles in reducing the stress on the knee and therefore improve pain. There are 3 types of main types of knee support (follow the link to products we would recommend):

  1. Compression support: This support will assist in managing swelling primarily

  2. Wrap around support: Often with metal bars to stabilise the knee more than the compression support.

  3. Full length brace: For particularly sore and unstable knees these braces provide the most support of the three.

  • Taping: Similar to wearing a knee brace taping can help support the knee by providing stability. Watch the video below for a taping technique that can particularly effective if the osteoarthritis is situated behind the kneecap:

  • Sports massage: Due to the increased demands on the muscles to support an osteoarthritic knee they can often become very tight and painful. Sports massage is a great way to address this tightness to manage the pain swell as move more freely.

  • Dry needling: Similar to sports massage dry needling is an effective way to tackle muscular tension and pain. The needles are inserted into trigger points/tight bands of muscle to relieve the tension, reducing pain and allowing more freedom of movement.

If your osteoarthritis is too advanced and is not able to be tackled with the above treatments there are two alternative options:

  1. Corticosteroid injections: These are a quick and effective way of managing knee pain and swelling. Often corticosteroid injections can provide up to 6 months of pain relief with knee osteoarthritis. This time should then be used as a window of opportunity to revisit the strengthening exercises to support the knee once the effects of the injection wear off.

  2. Total knee replacement: In some cases a replacement joint is the most appropriate option. When replacing the knee joint the osteoarthritic ends of the femur and tibia are removed and replaced. Following the replacement surgery extensive rehabilitation will be required to ensure the knee functions effectively.

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