Unfortunately, the knees you're born with don't come with a lifetime warranty. When working properly, they give you decades of mobility and help you lift everything from groceries to grandchildren. But as years pass, arthritis often sets in. It may start with an occasional ache or an uncanny ability to predict rain. At its worst, knee arthritis may prevent you from being active during the day and sleeping at night. That's why you should know there's help for knees in need.
In an osteoarthritic knee, the cartilage has thinned and deteriorated, allowing bone to rub against bone and cause pain.
Early diagnosis of arthritis and tailored treatment are crucial in slowing or preventing damage to your joints. Only a physician can determine if you have arthritis, based on:
- The overall pattern of symptoms.
- Medical history.
- Physical exam.
- X-rays and other imaging techniques.
- Lab tests.
The good news about arthritis in the knee is that it can be treated. Here are some signs that it might be time to talk to Dr. Byrne:
- Pain that persists or recurs over time.
- Pain that worsens after exercise or other weight-bearing activities.
- Pain in rainy weather.
- Pain prevents you from sleeping.
- A decrease in knee motion or the degree to which you're able to bend your knee.
- Stiff or swollen knees.
- Difficulty walking or climbing stairs.
- Difficulty getting in and out of chairs and bathtubs.
- Joint inflexibility that typically lasts less than 30 minutes (as opposed to a stiff joint lasting longer than 45 minutes, a sign of an inflammatory condition called rheumatoid arthritis)
- "Grating" of the joint.
- Previous injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of the knee.
Arthritis is a disease that typically worsens over the years, so it is common for treatment to involve more than one approach and to change over time. For some people, lifestyle changes, medications and walking aids help alleviate the pain. For others, knee replacement surgery may be the only long-term solution. Together, you and Dr. Byrne can determine the best treatment options for you.
The following nonsurgical treatments are often recommended for knee pain:
- Pacing your activities.
- Assistive devices.
- Low-impact exercise.
- Weight loss.
- Heat or cold.
- Physical and occupational therapy.
If nonsurgical treatments aren't relieving your pain and your mobility is affected, you may still achieve the results you want with surgery on your knee. There are better surgical choices today than before.
Often the first surgical treatment for knee osteoarthritis is arthroscopy, a surgical procedure used to see, diagnose and treat problems inside the joint. Arthroscopy typically involves inserting a small camera into the knee and then treating identifiable problems, which may include:
- Trimming damaged cartilage.
- Removing loose debris within the knee (debridement).
- Irrigating the inside of the knee (lavage).
- Removing/repairing a torn meniscus (cartilage) or reconstructing a damaged ligament.
Arthroscopy has been shown to diminish pain, and it may help delay the progression of knee osteoarthritis.
Total knee replacement
Is it time for knee replacement?
That's a question you and Dr. Byrne will have to answer together. But when knee pain is so bad it actually interferes with the things you want or need to do, the time may be right. Here are some signs to consider:
- Medication and using a cane just aren't delivering enough relief.
- Pain is keeping you up at night.
- Your knee aches during and after exercise.
- Your knee stiffens up when you're sitting in a car or a movie theater.
- You are no longer as mobile as you'd like to be.