What is Knee Arthritis?
Arthritis is a condition affecting the joints. Knee arthritis affects the hinge which makes up the knee joint. There are a number of different types of arthritis, the commonest of which is osteoarthritis. Also known as degenerative joint disease, it affects the whole joint including the cartilage, bone, ligaments and muscles. It is often thought of as “wear and tear” and is generally seen in people over 40. It often runs in families but can also occur after an injury.
What are the Symptoms?
Osteoarthritis is associated with pain and stiffness. The symptoms typically come on gradually over months or years. In the knee, pain can occur on just one side but eventually is felt globally. Pain is worse with activity but as the disease progresses can be present constantly. Night pain is common making sleep difficult. Stiffness can make it difficult to bend or completely straighten the knee. These symptoms may affect your ability to walk, negotiate stairs and do your normal daily activities. Leisure activities such as tennis, golf or bowls may become difficult or impossible.
What is the Treatment?
Early stages of the disease can be managed without surgery. Pain often fluctuates and sometimes an acute exacerbation will settle with rest and time. Pain medication can be used and should be restricted to paracetamol or anti-inflammatories. A structured physiotherapy program can be helpful. Weight loss for those who are overweight can be beneficial as well as the use of a walking stick.
If these modalities are unsuccessful injections such as cortisone (steroids) or PRP can be considered for pain relief. Hyaluronic acid injections have also shown promising results for the treatment of knee arthritis. Hyaluronic acid is a normal component of joint fluid which reduces in concentration in an arthritic knee. Injection of hyaluronic acid is a form of viscosupplementation providing lubrication and mechanical support to the knee joint which can help to relieve pain.
Those who have symptoms which are no longer manageable with the above will often benefit from knee replacement surgery.