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What is Knee Osteoarthritis?

Joints perform many different roles throughout the day – your knees especially!

However, as you age, you could lose a bit of spring in your step as your joint cartilage begins to wear out.

Many people will then experience a condition known as knee osteoarthritis.

Knee osteoarthritis is a prevalent degenerative joint condition that affects millions of people worldwide. People suffering from knee osteoarthritis can experience pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility in the knee joints.

In this article, we’ll learn all about knee osteoarthritis: its causes, symptoms, diagnoses, prevention, and more. 

Let’s start with the basics. 

Understanding Knee Osteoarthritis

Your knees are responsible for performing many functions in your everyday life. Your knees are supposed to move smoothly, letting you walk, run, and jump without a hitch.

But sometimes, things don’t go as planned.

The cartilage, which is supposed to be protective, starts breaking down.

This wear and tear can result in bone friction, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness. It’s like the gears in your knee machine are starting to grind against each other, making every movement a bit more challenging.

At that point, you can experience knee osteoarthritis.

Knee osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease [1]. And this condition doesn’t discriminate – it can affect people of all ages.

Several factors may contribute to knee osteoarthritis.

Common Causes and Risk Factors

Certain factors can contribute to the development of knee osteoarthritis, such as [2]:

1. Age. As we get older, our joints begin to show signs of wear and tear. The older you get, the more likely it is for knee osteoarthritis to develop.

2. Joint injuries. Remember that time you twisted your knee playing sports? Or maybe you had a nasty fall? The effects of these injuries can be long-lasting and make you more prone to osteoarthritis in the future.

3. Genetics. In some cases, it may simply run in the family. If your parents or grandparents had knee problems, you might also be more likely to experience them.

3. Obesity. Carrying extra weight adds extra pressure on your knees. This extra stress can speed up the wear and tear, leading to osteoarthritis.

4. Occupations. If your job involves frequent heavy lifting or standing for long periods, your knees might work a little harder than average. Certain occupations can increase the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis.

5. Gender. Women have a higher risk of developing knee osteoarthritis than men. Hormones can affect the structure of your joints.

Symptoms of Knee Osteoarthritis

Picture this: You wake up in the morning, and your knee feels stiff as a board. Bending it feels like trying to bend a rusty door hinge.

As you start moving around, you notice a dull ache that just won’t go away. Maybe it hurts when you climb stairs or bend down to tie your shoes.

Every step feels like a mini-expedition, navigating through discomfort with each move.

But it’s not just physical –  there’s a mental toll, too [3].

When you suffer from knee osteoarthritis, you may experience the frustration of not being able to move as freely as you used to.

You might worry about how it might progress.

The occasional twinge of pain serves as a constant reminder. 

There are good days and bad days. On a good day, you might almost forget about it. On a bad day, each step is a painful reminder of this condition. 

Initially, you may experience mild pain and stiffness, particularly after periods of inactivity. As the condition progresses, symptoms may intensify, leading to:

  • Joint tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty in bending the knee [4]

If you find that you experience these symptoms and feelings in your own life, you may be dealing with this condition. To learn more about diagnosis, read on.

Diagnosis and Medical Evaluation

The first step to finding the best treatment for your knee osteoarthritis is getting a diagnosis from a medical professional.

When diagnosing knee osteoarthritis, your doctor might perform the following:

1. Initial discussion

Your doctor will kick things off with a conversation. They’ll ask about your symptoms, when they started, and how they’ve been affecting your life. Be as honest as you can about your experience.

2. Hands-On Examination

Next up is a physical exam. Your doctor will observe your knee and check for the following:

  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Any sounds when you move it

3. Imaging Techniques

To get a closer look at what’s happening inside, your doctor might order some imaging tests.

X-rays can show the bones and any potential bone spurs [5]

MRIs can reveal soft tissues like cartilage to help identify inflammation and other structural abnormalities [6].

These advanced imaging techniques offer a more nuanced understanding of the condition than the physical exam provides. They are tools that enable your doctor to tailor treatment plans to your needs.

4. Joint Aspiration

In certain cases, your doctor may want to take a closer look at the fluid in your knee. The doctor uses a needle to draw out a small sample of synovial fluid.

This procedure is known as “Arthroscopy” and can provide valuable insights into the inflammatory status of the joint [7].

Early detection of knee osteoarthritis is crucial for effective management. Understanding the diagnosis process empowers you to take proactive measures in your treatment.

Once you have your diagnosis, it’s time to move on to treatment. We’ll cover the different treatment options for knee osteoarthritis in the next section.

Treatments for Knee Osteoarthritis

Depending on the specifics of your diagnosis, your doctor will recommend different treatment options such as medications, physical therapy, lifestyle modifications, and more. 

Treatments fall into these 7 categories: 

1. Medications

Analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs. These medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), help manage pain and reduce inflammation [8].

Topical treatments. You can directly apply creams or patches containing NSAIDs to the skin over the affected joint. These treatments help ease specific areas of discomfort.

If these treatments are not reducing the pain, your doctor might prescribe something stronger to help you.

Injections. Some people find pain relief through injections. Corticosteroids can help with inflammation [9], and hyaluronic acid injections might provide a bit of extra cushioning.

2. Physical Therapy

Believe it or not, exercise can be incredibly beneficial when it comes to managing knee osteoarthritis [10].

However, make sure you’re doing activities that are easy on the knees! Great forms of exercise include:

Range-of-motion exercises. These exercises help improve and maintain joint flexibility.

Strengthening exercises. These targeted exercises strengthen the muscles around the knee joint, providing additional support.

3. Lifestyle Modifications

Weight management. Keeping weight within a healthy range reduces the pressure on the knee joints, alleviating symptoms [11].

Aerobic exercises. Low-impact activities such as swimming promote weight loss without excessive stress on the joints [12]. These exercises can also improve joint health.

4. Interventional Radiology

Have you ever heard of interventional radiology? It’s a field that has minimally invasive treatments for knee osteoarthritis.

Procedures like radiofrequency ablation or genicular artery embolization can provide relief.

Genicular artery embolization (GAE). GAE involves blocking certain arteries in the knee joint to reduce inflammation and pain. This targeted approach aims to provide relief without the need for extensive surgery [13].

GAE offers a valuable option if you are seeking alternatives to traditional treatments.

5. Surgery

Joint replacement. In severe cases where joint damage is extensive, joint replacement surgery may be considered. This surgery involves substituting the damaged joint with an artificial one [14].

6. Assistive Devices

Assistive devices can be a great help to those suffering from knee osteoarthritis.

They can take some of the load off your knees, making life a bit more comfortable [15].

Braces and supports. These devices can help reduce strain and ease pain. They prove stability to the knee joint.

Canes or crutches. These tools assist in weight-bearing, reducing stress on the affected knee during movement.

7. Joint Supplements

Nutritional supplements like chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine are believed to support joint health and may offer relief for some people. While there is not a lot of scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness [16], they can be worth trying.

The Importance of Early Intervention in Knee Osteoarthritis

Now that you know about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of knee osteoarthritis, let’s talk about why early intervention is key.

Early detection of knee osteoarthritis opens the door to more effective management. If you catch it in the early stages, you can take steps to slow down the progression and ease symptoms [17].

Early intervention also improves joint function and plays a key role in preventing further joint damage. Waiting until the pain is unbearable might limit your options, and you should not have to live with immense suffering when there are many treatment options out there.

Diet and Nutrition for Joint Health

Now, let’s turn our attention to another crucial aspect of managing knee osteoarthritis – your diet and nutrition. 

There are certain types of foods that aid in the management of this condition:

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Incorporate foods with a higher content of omega-3 fatty acids to help reduce inflammation [18]. Some of these foods include:

  • Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, and sardines)
  • Flaxseeds
  • Walnuts

2. Antioxidant-rich foods

Load up on antioxidants found in colorful fruits and vegetables. Berries, cherries, spinach, and kale are fantastic choices. 

Antioxidants help protect your joints from oxidative stress, keeping them in tip-top shape [19].

3. Vitamin D and Calcium

Don’t skimp on vitamin D and calcium. These nutrients are vital for bone health [20].

Get your dose from dairy products, leafy greens, and calcium-fortified foods.  

4. Stay Hydrated

Water is your friend! Staying hydrated helps maintain the fluid content in your joints [21], which helps promote flexibility.  

5. Limit Processed Foods

Cut back on excessive sugar and processed foods. These can contribute to inflammation [22] and worsen osteoarthritis symptoms.

Keep the sweet treats to a minimum if you’re dealing with knee osteoarthritis.

Preventing Knee Osteoarthritis

With most ailments, prevention is preferable, and knee osteoarthritis is no exception.

Now that we’ve covered its causes and treatments, let’s talk about how to avoid knee osteoarthritis altogether: 

1. Stay Active

Regular exercise is great for maintaining health, but also maintaining your joints!

Focus on activities that are gentle on the joints, such as walking, swimming, or cycling [23]. Strengthening the muscles around your knees provides them with added support.

2. Warm-Up Before Exercise

Always warm up before diving into exercise. Gentle stretches and movements prepare your joints for action, which prevents unnecessary strain [24]. This should always be part of your exercise routine

3. Protect Your Knees During Sports

If you’re into sports, wear protective gear like knee pads to shield your joints from impact. 

4. Strengthen Your Core

A strong core provides stability to your entire body, including your knees. There are many different core-strengthening exercises that you can try out.

Find the ones you enjoy most and include them in your exercise routine[25]. 

5. Lose Some Weight

If you’re carrying extra weight, consider shedding a few pounds [26]. This will lighten the load on your knees, giving them a break from the extra stress. 

Aim for a healthy weight through regular physical activity and a balanced diet.  

6. Mind Your Posture

Make sure you pay attention to your posture. Good posture ensures that body weight is evenly distributed, which reduces unnecessary strain on your knees.

7. Choose the Right Shoes

Shoes aren’t just about style! Invest in shoes with good cushioning and arch support [27]. 

Proper footwear, much like minding your posture, helps distribute your body weight evenly, reducing the impact on your knees. 

8. Hot and Cold Therapy

There are many benefits of hot and cold therapy, including joint relief. Applying a warm compress can soothe stiffness, while a cold pack can help ease inflammation [28].

9. Assistive Devices

Don’t hesitate to use assistive devices like canes or braces if needed. They provide extra support, making it easier for your knees to handle day-to-day life.

10. Mindful Movement

Be mindful of your movements. When lifting, bend your knees and hips, not your back.

Avoid sudden twists and turns that can strain your knee joints.  

11. Stress Less

Believe it or not, stress can impact your joints [29]. Incorporate stress-reducing activities like meditation or yoga into your routine. 

12. Listen to Your Body

Pay attention to any signs of pain and discomfort. If something doesn’t feel right, make sure to give your body the rest it needs.

13. Regular Check-Ups

Schedule regular check-ups with your doctor. Early detection of any problem allows you to tackle issues before they get worse.

Prevention is key, but for many, it’s often too late. But as we’ve learned through this article, there are many available treatments out there that provide relief. 

Living with knee osteoarthritis doesn’t need to be a burden.

Living with Knee Osteoarthritis: Coping Strategies

Navigating knee osteoarthritis involves more than just dealing with physical challenges.

Your mental well-being is absolutely essential when dealing with knee osteoarthritis.

It’s important to reach out for emotional support and tackle the mental health aspects that can arise with living through persistent pain.

When it comes to living with knee osteoarthritis, it’s not just about the physical. The mental portion is just as important!

Conclusion

Understanding knee osteoarthritis is a journey through the complexities of our joints and the factors influencing their health.

From the risk factors to the treatment options, we’ve explored a comprehensive toolkit for managing this condition.

Whether you’re just beginning to understand your knee health or have been on this journey for a while, remember you’re not alone.

Treatments and lifestyle adjustments abound, supporting your quest for healthier knees and a more vibrant life.

If you experience pain and stiffness resulting from diagnosed or suspected knee osteoarthritis, interventional radiology may be a solution for you. At Imaging and Interventional Radiology, our dedicated experts maintain a patient-focused approach, providing high-quality care with compassion and expertise.

You shouldn’t have to suffer. Take the first step towards relief and improving your everyday well-being. Contact Imaging and Interventional Radiology today!

Resources

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