You may be used to the sound of your knees when you climb stairs, with some cracks and pops that seem normal to you. While some noise can be harmless, new research indicates that these sounds are actually a sign of increased risk for osteoarthritis in the knee, especially as you age. Across a group of 3500 people with an average age of 61, and found that while noises were associated with osteoarthritis, knee pain actually wasn’t. If you think you may be in this group, a visit to an orthopedic surgeon in Marietta can help you assess your risk and develop plans for prevention and treatment.
While you usually hear the term arthritis alone, there is actually a wide range of conditions under this umbrella, which simply means inflammation in the joints. Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis that usually develops as a result of wear and tear on the body’s joints. When the natural cushioning in joints, cartilage, wears away, it allows the bones to rub together more closely without the benefits of shock absorption that the cartilage provides. This rubbing leads to pain, swelling, stiffness, trouble movement, and the formation of bone spurs.
One of the most common joints affected by osteoarthritis is the knee due to the amount it is used and the pressure placed on it. The most common cause is age- almost everyone will eventually have some degree of this condition, though it is often mild. For those with serious cases, the condition can be debilitating.
Recognizing Arthritis of the Knee
It’s been found that a noisy knee can indicate a higher chance of arthritis in the knees, as what you hear may be the bones rubbing or cartilage shifting. However, there are usually other more obvious signs once the condition begins to worsen. Symptoms may include the following:
- Pain that worsens when you are active and improves some with rest
- Warmth at the joint
- Stiffness in the knee, especially after periods of sitting or in the morning
- Loss of mobility in the knee, making it hard to do things like get into the car, use stairs, or stand from a sitting position
When you visit an orthopedic surgeon in Marietta with these symptoms, they will first do a physical exam and get your full medical history. Arthritis has a hereditary component, so family history will be relevant as well. They can then perform x-rays and MRIs to identify problems with the bone, cartilage, and other tissues in order to reach a diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis.
Treating Knee Osteoarthritis
Because arthritis is not reversible, the main goal of treatment will be to reduce pain and restore mobility. The earlier you seek treatment for knee arthritis, the better your chances will be of returning to your previous lifestyle with conservative treatment.
In the early stages of the condition, you may be instructed to use strengthening exercises to stabilize the joint and decrease pain and stretching exercises to keep the knee joint mobile and flexible. This is often paired with over-the-counter pain medication, particularly NSAIDs, which reduce inflammation, though these medications should be used sparingly and for short periods of time.
For longer-term management of the condition, injections of steroids into the knee are common as they provide a reduction in inflammation for long periods of time. Hyaluronic acid can also be injected to lubricate the joint. Physical therapy and topical creams are also common treatment techniques. For some people, braces will help. There are two types of braces: unloader braces, which take the weight off of the impacted knee, and support braces which provide support for the entire knee.
Surgery for Osteoarthritis of the Knee
When other treatments don’t work, you may be referred for surgery. There are three main types of surgery to treat arthritis in the knee.
An arthroscopy uses a telescope and several small incisions to remove damaged cartilage, clean the bone surface, and repair tissue in the knee. This usually is used to delay more serious surgery. An osteotomy focuses on the alignment of the knee and changes the shape of the bones, though this is also not permanent.
The final treatment is joint replacement surgery, in which joints are replaced entirely with artificial parts made of metal or plastic. While this may need to be repeated later in life, joints can last up to 20 years and results are usually very good.
If you are hearing noises from your knee or otherwise suspect you have osteoarthritis, contact AICA Marietta today to schedule your first consultation.