Do you have knee pain that limits you from doing the things you love to do? If so, you’re not alone. Your knee pain may be due to osteoarthritis of the knee, which affects millions of Americans.
In fact, knee osteoarthritis is the most common type of osteoarthritis. The good news is that early diagnosis and treatment can help you manage your symptoms, and improve your quality of life.
What Is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease, often called simply “arthritis.” Osteoarthritis of the knee is often referred to as wear-and-tear arthritis, because the cartilage in the knee joint gradually wears away over time.
There can be several causes of this deterioration of the cartilage, including:
- Repetitive strain on the knee (athletic or job strain)
- Previous knee injury
- Problems with subchondral bone (the bone underneath the knee cartilage)
- Autoimmune conditions
- Advanced age
Symptoms of Knee Osteoarthritis
Unlike an acute injury, symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee usually develop slowly over time. Symptoms begin to occur when your knee cartilage, the firm but softer tissue between your bones that helps with motion, becomes rough or begins to wear down.
When this happens, it causes the bones in your knees to rub against each other. Symptoms may begin as mild pain or stiffness, localized swelling, or some reduced range of motion.
You may even feel or hear crackling or grating when you move your knees. Symptoms tend to worsen following more aggressive physical activity, especially when the knee is overused.
Stiffness is also common after you’ve been sitting for an extended period of time. As arthritis gets worse, the pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion can become more severe and more persistent.
What to Expect at Your Doctor’s Appointment
At your orthopedist appointment, you will discuss your medical history with the doctor. Your orthopedic surgeon will then do a careful physical exam and obtain X-rays of your knee.
The X-rays will show your doctor whether there is joint space narrowing, and the images can also help rule out other causes of your knee troubles. In some cases, if more information is needed, your doctor may also order an MRI in order to get a closer look at specific areas inside your knee.
Knee Arthritis Treatment Options
Although there is no cure for knee osteoarthritis, meaning technology to put all new cartilage back inside the knee does not exist, there are many treatment options available to help manage your symptoms.
Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, naproxen, or ibuprofen can help relieve pain. Similar prescription medications such as Mobic or Celebrex have also proven helpful for many people with this condition as well.
There are several other treatment options in addition to medications, including:
- Physical therapy
- Topical creams
- Knee braces
- Heat and cold therapy
- Local intraarticular steroid injections
- Viscosupplementation (lubricant) injections
When Surgery Is an Option
When the other treatments mentioned above have not proven effective, it may be time to talk to your orthopedic surgeon about arthroscopic surgery, partial knee replacement, or total knee replacement surgery.
In arthroscopic surgery, your surgeon can remove damaged cartilage and then flush the knee to remove loose bone or cartilage pieces that may be causing pain. This is usually a relatively minor, minimally invasive, and fairly painless surgery with a short recovery time that can provide you with pain relief. Arthroscopic surgery is most helpful to address mechanical symptoms that may come from a meniscus tear, but does not cure arthritis because there is no way to put new cartilage back into the knee. The risk over time is that worse arthritis could develop in the knee, which could ultimately require some type of knee replacement surgery.
If your knee is completely worn out, the surgical cure for bone-on-bone arthritis is either a partial knee replacement or a full knee replacement (also known as a total knee replacement). While both procedures can help relieve your pain and improve your ability to move, the choice of which procedure is right for you depends on many factors. If arthritis is localized to just one area in the knee, a partial knee replacement to resurface that area may be a good option. If there is arthritis throughout the entire knee, then a full knee replacement would be required. Both a partial knee replacement or a full knee replacement involves removing the areas of arthritis and resurfacing those damaged areas with an artificial joint made of special metals and plastic components, to keep the bones from rubbing together.
Recovery after both a partial knee replacement or a total knee replacement surgery involves physical therapy to regain knee flexibility and strength, but the end result in terms of pain relief and restored knee function can dramatically improve your quality of life.
Knee Surgeon in Raleigh
Don’t let knee pain rule your life – there are excellent treatment options available. Dr. Brett Gilbert is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with extensive knowledge and experience in treating knee osteoarthritis.
Dr. Gilbert welcomes the opportunity to serve you at his offices in Raleigh, Apex, and Brier Creek, all located in the Triangle region of North Carolina.