The knee is commonly affected by osteoarthritis. Nearly 1 in 5 people over 45 years old in the UK will seek treatment for the condition, although different people are affected in different ways. The pain and reduced mobility associated with the disease sometimes takes many years to develop, though in other cases its onset is much faster.
What is knee osteoarthritis?
Leg and thigh bones meet in the knee joint. The ends of the bone are normally protected by a substance called cartilage. If this smooth covering becomes worn and rough the bones will rub against each other causing a grating pain. The body may compensate for this accelerated wear and tear by over-producing bone, so the joint may grow thicker in some places. In other places the bones will wear down more quickly without being replaced. As your body tries to repair itself it may also produce additional fluids in the joint. All these factors can misshape your knee and cause pain and swelling. Because of the swelling your knee won’t be able to move as easily and that will reduce your natural movement.
This blend of pain and limited mobility takes its toll. Getting treatment and advice to limit pain and get you moving comfortably will help you to regain your quality of life. From surgery to lifestyle changes, there are steps you can take to relieve pain and try to reduce the severity of symptoms:
- Losing weight (if you are overweight) can make symptoms better, as less stress will be put on your knee joint
- Building stronger muscles through specific exercises can help your body to naturally support the knee joint, lessening pain
- Standard over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol, non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and heat and/or ice packs help to reduce pain and inflammation
- Your doctor may also prescribe stronger painkillers, steroid injections to reduce inflammation, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) or refer you for surgery.
Do I need surgery for knee osteoarthritis?
If your day to day life is affected by pain and immobility, and other treatment options have not been effective, then it is time to consider surgery.
Surgery can take different forms, with varying results and recovery times. Knee replacement surgery (arthroplasty) removes the worn bone ends and replaces them with a metal and plastic artificial joint. You may have a total knee replacement or partial replacement, where only one side of the joint is removed. It may take some months to fully recover from the operation, but your new knee should last for many years. Arthroscopic surgery is less invasive than a knee replacement. A small camera is inserted into the knee joint to remove or repair damaged cartilage. It may delay the need for knee replacement surgery. Talk to your surgeon about the options available to you and the benefits and negatives of having surgery.