According to the National Institute of Arthritis and
Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), approximately 27 million Americans
aged 25 and older suffer from osteoarthritis.Though it
can affect anyone, those who overwork their joints and have experienced
previous joint injury are at an increased risk. The pain and inflammation can
interfere with your day-to-day activities and bring even the most seasoned
athlete to a screeching halt in their activity. Our knees are usually the first
joints to show their age through regular wear and tear, but add to that years
of high-impact exercise like running and skiing and you’re on the fast track to
having to sacrifice the activities you love.
What Is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common form of
arthritis that breaks down the joint’s cartilage. Cartilage acts as a cushion
on the ends of the joints and helps them to move more easily. When the
cartilage breaks down, you’re left with bone rubbing against bone when you move
the joint, which can lead to damage to the joint itself. This is what results
in the pain, stiffness, and interference with joint movement that is
characteristic of OA.
Though the cartilage in the joints breaks
down on its own from wear and tear over the years, there are certain risk
factors that increase a person’s chances of ending up with OA. The following
are risk factors for OA of the knee as outlined by Arthritis Research UK:
your age; being over the age of
previous injury to a joint
being a woman
other conditions, such as gout
and rheumatoid arthritis
Common Signs and Symptoms
Osteoarthritis commonly affects the
weight-bearing joints, with the knee often being the first joint to trouble
athletes and people who engage in high-impact exercise. The most common signs
and symptoms of OA include:
joint pain after overuse or
joint stiffness that gets
better when you start to move again after a period of inactivity
morning joint stiffness lasting
for a short period of time
The pain and stiffness from OA of the knee
can lead to inactivity that causes the muscles in the leg to deteriorate,
leading to a vicious circle of even more pain and inactivity. It can also cause
a person to favor the other leg to offset their discomfort, which can lead to
issues with the other knee.
Managing Osteoarthritis Knee Pain
There are several ways to treat and manage
OA knee pain, though which will work best depends on the severity of the damage
to the knee joint. NIAMS
recommends a combination of the following to manage OA:
prescription pain medication can offer temporary relief from pain and
inflammation to help you stay active.
Exercise helps improve strength
and blood circulation and reduce pain.
Heat can be applied using warm
towels or hot water bottles to improve circulation and soothe pain.
Applying cold using ice packs
or a frozen bag of vegetables can help reduce inflammation.
Avoiding long periods of rest
will keep joints from stiffening.
Scheduled rest is necessary to
avoid overworking the damaged joint.
Physical therapy is performed
by professionals who work with you to improve joint function.
Occupational therapy teaches
you ways to lessen your pain by protecting the joints and also how to perform
your activities in a way that minimizes discomfort.
Losing excess weight reduces
stress on the joints; according to a study published in a 2005 edition of the
journal Arthritis & Rheumatism by
the American College of Rheumatology, each pound lost results in the equivalent
of 4 pounds of stress off the knee.
Using a combination of these can help keep
your OA knee pain under control so that you can continue with your daily
activities as well as the exercise and physical activities that you enjoy. Speak
to your doctor or a sports medicine expert to determine the best course of
treatment for your individual needs.