Arthritis is mistakenly thought of as a condition affecting only our eldest population. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), arthritis of the knee is one of the five leading causes of disability among elderly men and women. However, “elderly” may soon become an obsolete term, as younger patients between the ages of 40 and 60 are also feeling the pain and seeking treatments that will allow them the flexibility to remain active. As we get older, inevitably, we envision that our gait will slow and our achy joints may begin to demonstrate their age. But are we ready for that reality at 40 or in some cases even younger? Hardly.
Defined Where two bones meet in the body, you will find a joint, which is primarily responsible for aiding our movement. Our knees house the largest joints in the human body. Given the tremendous effort our knees exert daily on our behalf, they are most susceptible to arthritis.
Arthritis, then, is an inflammation of the joint. Some develop it due to strong hereditary factors, while others may exhibit symptoms after a single, traumatic event. The vast majority, however, develop knee arthritis over time, due to wear-and-tear of the joint’s cartilage. Without the cushion provided by cartilage, bare bones rub against each other. This is the impetus for the most common symptom of knee arthritis: Pain.
Accompanying pain may be swelling, stiffness and a feeling of warmth around the knee. In the early stages, pain will dissipate as activity increases. For instance, the stiff feeling your legs experience after sitting in the same position too long gradually departs after a few steps. As we age, however, constant pain can take hold which makes mobility much more challenging. At any age we want the flexibility to enjoy active, fulfilling lives. When knee arthritis reaches the point where it affects our daily routines, serious treatments are often considered.
Treatment involves managing pain to the degree recommended by your doctor:
Activity Modification This doesn’t equate to inactivity, but rather substituting activity. If running hurts your knee, than take a break from it in favor of another sport. In the case of competitive sports, even those at a high school or collegiate level, athletes should weigh the benefits and risks of their elevated training regimens. Repetitive activity in particular is a precursor to developing knee arthritis down the road. Other modifications may include utilizing a support or knee brace as needed.
Anti-Inflammatory Treatments Often the first place to start in treatment is ice, which serves as a good topical anti-inflammatory. Both oral and topical medicines are available to combat pain. Also, as the disease progresses, some find it beneficial to receive corticosteroid injections (Cortisone).
“Medical science is extraordinary,” said Dr. John A. Martin, Jr., Commonwealth Orthopaedic Associates. “At the end of the day, however, activity modification and anti-inflammatory treatments do not forestall the onset or progress of arthritis. They do treat the symptoms and allow people to return to a more active lifestyle.”
Partial and Total Knee Replacement While some find that activity modification and/or anti-inflammatory treatments work well to manage symptoms, others experience an elevation in the frequency, duration and intensity of pain associated with knee arthritis over time. Surgery to perform either a partial or full knee placement is the most serious option for consideration and should be discussed over the course of a patient’s treatment with his or her doctor.
For patients with advanced knee arthritis limited to a single compartment, partial replacements are viable options, with new advances offering an extremely close approximation of natural knee joints.
The knee, however, has three compartments. And when more than one compartment of the knee is affected, a total knee replacement may be the best course of treatment. Today, more than half a million are performed annually in the United States.
“Arthritis is a very common problem, affecting a large portion of our population, both young and old,” said Dr. Martin. “We would all be well advised to engage in joint preservation principles from a young age. Minor changes now may avoid major changes, like surgery, in the future.”