There are many different types of arthritis, but osteoarthritis is the most prevalent type worldwide. Over 32 million Americans have osteoarthritis according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and many things can contribute to its development – including injury, age, playing sports, or being overweight. It is, in fact, a major cause of disability in Americans. It can occur in any joint, but knee osteoarthritis is particularly common.
Also known as degenerative knee arthritis, knee osteoarthritis is mainly caused by “wear and tear.” As the main shock absorber of the knee joint, cartilage tends to be the first part of the knee that is affected by arthritis, wearing down due to repeated stress. Eventually, the breakdown of cartilage in the knee leaves the bony surfaces exposed to bone-on-bone rubbing and injury.
This constant strain on the bone causes it to thicken, and it can eventually develop bone spurs. The inflammation also causes a change in the lubricating synovial fluid in the joint. This progressive damage can result in pain, swelling, clicking, and restriction of movement.
What Are the Stages of Knee Osteoarthritis?
Knee osteoarthritis progresses through four stages. There are some things that you can do to reduce your risk of developing it, but other risk factors are out of our control – such as age and past injury, which can increase your risk of developing knee osteoarthritis.
Stage 1 Knee Osteoarthritis
This type of minor arthritis often has no symptoms. An X-ray, however, may show the beginning of the formation of bone spurs, which usually indicates osteoarthritis.
No treatment is necessary at this point, but prevention can be the key to minimizing further damage to your knee. A healthy diet and regular physical activity can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, which thereby minimizes pressure on your knee joints. Likewise, the exercise will help you build muscle that supports and stabilizes your knee.
It is a good idea to replace high-impact activities, such as running or playing contact sports, with low-impact activities such as walking, swimming, or biking. Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements may also be recommended by your orthopedic surgeon to help support healthy joints.
Stage 2 Knee Osteoarthritis
At this point, you may begin to experience some discomfort in your knee, especially after a long day on your feet, or after resting for a period of time and then getting up and moving. People with this level of arthritis often report that when they first get up in the morning, their knees hurt; but after they’ve walked around for a little while, the pain is gone.
Your X-rays will show bigger bone spurs at this point, but your cartilage will still fairly healthy. You will still have a good supply of synovial lubricating fluid. The ends of the bones in your knee are not touching when you move, so pain is still minimal.
The best thing for you to do if you have stage 2 knee osteoarthritis is to maintain a regular exercise routine. Your doctor or a physical therapist may show you specific exercises that will strengthen the muscles around the joint, and this will help to stabilize the knee and reduce friction when you move.
Good shoes will help to stabilize your stride and offer some shock absorbency. Your orthopedic surgeon may recommend wearing a knee brace periodically to help with stability. The doctor will discuss treatments that will work best for you.
Stage 3 Knee Osteoarthritis
By now, you will be experiencing pain and stiffness regularly, both when you first get out of bed in the morning and when you make certain movements during the day. Bending, kneeling, running, and walking up the stairs might cause knee pain.
On an X-ray, your orthopedic doctor will see thinning of your cartilage and more narrow spaces between your bones in the knee joint. This scenario creates a greater likelihood that knee movement is creating more pain.
You will probably need some type of pain medication at this point. Low-dose non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are usually recommended, but consult your orthopedic surgeon. Depending on any other health conditions you might have, one medication may be better for you than another. Be sure to follow the recommended dosages, because too much medication can cause damage to your internal organs, such as your kidneys.
If your pain cannot be controlled with oral medications, you may want to discuss therapeutic injections with your orthopedic surgeon. There are a number of different types of injections that could help to ease your pain, and these treatments can help your arthritis pain for weeks or months at a time.
Stage 4 Knee Osteoarthritis
This involves severe knee pain whenever you walk or move your knee. The cartilage that protects the joint is thin or gone, and the fluids that lubricate it are abnormal. Bone spurs can impede that natural movement of the knee, causing clicking and further damage.
When you hear the phrase “bone on bone,” this is stage 4 knee osteoarthritis. Often, the best and most effective treatment for severe knee osteoarthritis is joint replacement surgery. This surgery, performed by an orthopedic surgeon, is one of the most common and most successful orthopedic procedures performed today – offering many people the ability to return to an active lifestyle, free of pain or debility.
Trusted Knee Surgeon in Raleigh
If you are experiencing periodic or chronic knee pain or any other problems with your joints or muscles, contact our friendly team today at the offices of Dr. Brett Gilbert by calling us at (919) 788-8797 or request an appointment online. As a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Gilbert can offer you expert advice on maintaining healthy joints and provide the necessary treatments that will get you on your way to start living pain-free once again.