If you have knee arthritis, you understand how pain and stiffness can affect your ability to do the things that you love to do. Sometimes it can even interfere with the things you need to do. And the truth is that you are not alone.
Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative arthritis or just “arthritis,” is the most common form of arthritis – and your knees are especially vulnerable to the disease. The good news is that you do not have to suffer with knee arthritis. With the interventions and guidance of the right doctor, specifically an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in diseases of the bones and joints, you can be back to all the things that you love to do, without all the pain you’ve been feeling.
Let’s take a look at exactly what osteoarthritis of the knee is and how an orthopedic surgeon can help you.
How Does Knee Arthritis Start?
Osteoarthritis can be caused by injury to a joint, or it can simply be the result of years of wear and tear. If you think about it, any time you do any weight-bearing activity (walking, running, jumping, climbing), your knees are working and bearing the impact.
Your knee joint is where the bone of your upper leg meets with the bones of your lower leg and your kneecap. Bands called ligaments attach the bones to each other in the joint, and tendons attach the bones to the muscles that support the knee joint. Firm but flexible cartilage tissues act as shock absorbers, while the synovial fluid in the joint acts as a lubricant during flexing and bending.
All of this works wonderfully together as you go about the activities of life, so that you experience smooth and pain-free movement. However, over time, the repetition of movement and the stress of impact can cause the shock absorbers to become thin, the lubricant levels to run low, and the ends of the bones to become damaged or jagged. This is when you may begin to feel the pain of arthritis in your knees.
The key to preventing or eliminating pain is to find someone who can reverse these problems and repair or replace any damage. Your orthopedic surgeon has the specialized expertise necessary to treat your knee arthritis and get you moving again.
How Can an Orthopedist Help My Knee Pain?
Initially, treatment for knee arthritis may be as simple as lifestyle changes, activity, and medications. Your orthopedic surgeon will be able to determine the severity of your arthritis and what will best work for you. Getting adequate exercise, eating a balanced diet to help keep your weight low, and getting enough sleep are things that you will be able to do to improve the health of your joints. Your surgeon may add a specific exercise regimen or prescribe physical therapy to help strengthen the muscles that support your knee and to improve flexibility.
Knee braces or shoe insoles may be recommended to keep your knee supported and properly aligned. Your orthopedic surgeon may also prescribe medications, either those that you swallow or those that you rub onto your knee, to help with the pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most commonly prescribed medications for arthritis, and they come in both pill and topical cream/gel forms.
Orthopedic Treatments for Knee Arthritis
If your osteoarthritis of the knee worsens, you might find that the noninvasive therapies are not getting you the level of pain relief that you need to enjoy your active life. When this happens, your orthopedic surgeon has a number of procedures or surgeries that can be performed to get you up and moving again.
Steroid injections into the painful knee will help decrease inflammation in the joint, thereby allowing more freedom of movement and resulting in much less pain or no pain at all. Your body’s natural response to injury is to cause inflammation around the injury, and cortisol is a naturally occurring steroid in your own body that can help to counteract swelling and pain. By injecting medication that is similar to cortisol into the joint, your orthopedic surgeon is helping your body eliminate the swelling that is causing the pain.
Many people experience same-day relief from this treatment; however, it could take a day or two to experience the full benefit. It is important to understand that this type of injection cannot be done too frequently, or your joint could become damaged. It is safe to repeat these injections in the future as long as they are at least 3 months apart.
Hyaluronic acid injections into the knee that is bothering you is one way in which your surgeon can improve function and decrease pain. Just as the synovial fluid normally acts as a lubricant, hyaluronic acid gives this a boost and can help renew your fluids to a more normal level – decreasing any rubbing that may be happening in the joint between bones. This is usually accomplished over a series of injections given at regular intervals, like an oil change for the knee.
Surgical procedures are available when other therapies are no longer working. Your orthopedic surgeon may recommend arthroscopy, which is a type of minimally invasive joint surgery. In this procedure, your surgeon can use a small surgical telescope and instruments smaller than a pencil to look at the inside of your knee joint and remove damaged cartilage, a torn meniscus, or debris that may be causing pain and impeding movement. A procedure called an osteotomy can sometimes be performed to change the shape of the bones in the joint and improve alignment, making movement easier and pain-free, although most patients aside from the extremely young would typically get better results from a partial knee replacement.
Knee replacement surgery may be recommended by your orthopedic surgeon if your arthritis is advanced to the point where other therapies just won’t be enough. If you live with chronic knee pain, you know that it can be very debilitating and can greatly affect your quality of life. Remarkably, the joint replacement procedures available today can even be done on an outpatient basis, and they can get you moving quicker and easier than ever before, so you can once again enjoy knee movement without pain.
During this procedure, your orthopedic surgeon will remove the damaged bone surfaces in your knee joint and replace them with artificial prosthetic materials made of metal caps on the ends of the bones and a special gliding surface in-between made of a medical-grade plastic. Only one part of the joint might be need to be replaced (a partial knee replacement), or the entire joint if necessary (called a full or total knee replacement).
It usually takes about 6 weeks to get back to many of your normal activities and a few more months for to finish strengthening the muscles around the knee. You can typically expect to experience a lot less pain or no pain at all after your recovery, and your new knee joint will last for years. On average, 9 out of 10 patients will have a good functioning partial or full knee replacement in 20 years.
Experienced Knee Surgeon in Raleigh
If you are experiencing knee pain, especially if it is limiting the things you can do, it’s time to seek help. There are many options for treatment that can improve your knee mobility.
Our friendly team is here to answer your questions and to help you find the treatment you need. Call the offices of Dr. Brett Gilbert at (919) 788-8797 or request an appointment via our online form, and let us help you get on the road to living pain-free once again.