Osteoarthritis of the knee joint: Your knee joint cartilage gradually wears away in a condition known as osteoarthritis. This condition is one of the most common forms of arthritis of the knee joint that progressively damages the knee joint. It develops slowly and progresses gradually through several stages before ending up in completely developed osteoarthritis. This condition may take several years to develop silently.
Osteoarthritis of the knee joint slowly progresses causing mild to moderate symptoms during the early stages of the disease. In the later stages of the disease – especially in the fourth stage, symptoms become very severe impacting the synovium of the knee joint and cartilage severely. When the knee cartilage gets severely damaged in the fourth stage of osteoarthritis, it requires surgery.
In the initial stages of osteoarthritis, the treatment may include lifestyle modifications, pain-relieving medications, physiotherapy, and exercise sessions for improving cartilages, muscles, ligaments, bone mobility, strength, and endurance.
Your Knee Joint Cartilage Works Like a Shock Absorber or A Cushion
The purpose of a cushion is to absorb the impact of a force and to keep the hard surface it surrounds in good shape. Similarly, in a motorbike or motorcar, a shock absorber takes the impact of the force caused by uneven road and ensures that the vehicle rides smoothly. In a typical knee joint, the cartilage works just like a cushion or a shock absorber. To provide further softness and lubrication, the knee joint also has synovium. It produces synovium fluid for lubrication. As long as the cartilage is healthy, the joint remains healthy and the movement is smooth.
The Damage Caused by Osteoarthritis of the knee joint is Progressive
Osteoarthritis of the knee joint meaning: Osteoarthritis causes the slow deterioration of the knee joint. This means it can take up to several years for the cartilage of the knee joint to completely wear away. During the progress of the condition, knee joint bones come closer and closer to each other due to the loss of cushioning support in the form of cartilage. In general, the excessive wear and tear of the cartilage over a period of time, creates a situation wherein bones come so close to each other that they literally rub against each other causing severe pain, swelling, and walking difficulty.
See the below image to understand it better…
Let us try to understand the consequences of this condition
Remember, at this stage, you may start to experience quite unbearable symptoms such as severe knee joint pain, stiffness in the knee joint, swelling, walking difficulty, and a warm feeling of touching the joint area. For this reason, osteoarthritis is also known as wear-and-tear arthritis.
Osteoarthritis of the knee symptoms in the advanced stages
- Progressive Pain
- Cracking sound in the knee with movement
- Difficulty walking on stairs
- Difficulty in getting in and out of the chair, bed, and car
- Reduced knee mobility
- Stiffness in the knee joint (morning stiffness)
- Less mobility
- Feeling of warmth in the knee joint
- Swelling of the knee joint
- Knee pain increases with activity but makes you feel better with rest
Diagnosis of the Disease
Your orthopedic doctor will do a physical examination and ask you a few questions regarding your symptoms and medical history. The doctor will evaluate and do a better assessment of your case based on the severity of your symptoms, pain and location, and the extent of pain and damage caused to your knee joint. Your orthopedic doctor will also ask you about the activities you do that make your walking and pain difficult. The next question will be regarding whether your pain becomes worse when you walk or do some activity and resting relieves the pain.
Your orthopedic doctor will also take into consideration your family history of any knee disease or symptoms related to the knee joint. This is usually done to determine whether any other family member also has some knee conditions – which could be due to arthritis. In addition, your doctor will order X-rays, other imaging, and blood tests to rule out other diseases – such as rheumatoid arthritis, and confirm osteoarthritis diagnosis.
Treatment Options for the Osteoarthritis of the Knee Joint
The treatment initially is mostly symptomatic and the goal of it is to ensure improvement in mobility and pain relief. The treatment depends on the symptoms and stage of the condition. It is also decided based on the extent of damage caused to the knee joint.
First-stage Osteoarthritis of the knee joint Treatment
The asymptomatic condition does not require any treatment. Osteoarthritis in the initial stages doesn’t cause any symptoms. If any patient reports any mild to moderate symptoms, doctors advise them to take pain-relieving medications and OTCs and recommend some exercises. They refer such cases to physiotherapists advising them to recommend exercises that will help improve the strength and mobility of the knee joint. Some experts recommend supplements – but how far they are helpful is still inconclusive.
Second-stage Osteoarthritis Treatment
Orthopedicians recommend treatment based on the symptoms and damage caused to the knee joint. At this stage of the condition also, physical therapy sessions that help build the strength and endurance of muscles, ligaments, cartilages and bones are helpful. Orthopedic surgeons instruct the affected individuals to make lifestyle changes that involve avoiding weight-bearing activities and minimizing high-impact activities. The goal of treatment at this stage of osteoarthritis is to reduce pain and minimize the damage to the joint.
Third and Fourth-stage Osteoarthritis Treatment
Osteoarthritis of the knee joint, as we all know, is a slowly progressive and damaging condition of the knee joint. It may progressively lead to the third and fourth stages if diligent steps have not been taken to slow down its progression. Once osteoarthritis leads to the third and fourth stage, the damage it induces becomes significant and irreversible. The only and the best option that remains for the affected individual during these stages is knee replacement surgery.
If you have severe knee pain, joint stiffness with severe arthritis (third or fourth stage), and impaired knee function, then your knee replacement surgeon will recommend total knee replacement. Individuals with the following symptoms are the candidates for total knee replacement: progressively increasing knee pain, stiffness, swelling, inflammation, decreasing knee activity and mobility, and chronic knee pain.
Read More – When to Consider Knee Replacement Surgery for the osteoarthritis of the knee joint.