Osteoarthritis is a condition in which the natural cushioning between joints -cartilage- wears away. When this happens, the bones of the joints rub more closely against one another with less of the shock-absorbing benefits of cartilage. The rubbing results in pain, swelling, stiffness, decreased ability to move and, sometimes, the formation of bone spurs.
The primary goals of treating osteoarthritis of the knee are to relieve the pain and return mobility. The treatment plan will typically include a combination of the following:
- Weight loss. Losing even a small amount of weight, if needed, can significantly decrease knee pain from osteoarthritis.
- Exercise. Strengthening the muscles around the knee makes the joint more stable and decreases pain. Stretching exercises help keep the knee joint mobile and flexible.
- Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Injections of corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid into the knee.
- Some alternative therapies that may be effective include topical creams with capsaicin, acupuncture, or supplements.
Surgical Options for Knee Arthritis
When non-surgical treatments for knee arthritis fail, you and your doctor may consider surgery.
Arthroscopy uses a small telescope (arthroscope) and other small instruments. The surgery is performed through small incisions. The surgeon uses the arthroscope to see into the joint space. Once there, the surgeon can remove damaged cartilage or loose particles, clean the bone surface, and repair other types of tissue if those damages are discovered. The procedure is often used on younger patients (ages 55 and younger) in order to delay more serious surgery. Most people can get back to their usual activities a few days later. The recovery usually isn’t painful.
An osteotomy is a procedure that aims to make the knee alignment better by changing the shape of the bones. This type of surgery may be recommended if you have damage primarily in one area of the knee. It might also be recommended if you have broken your knee and it has not healed well. This procedure restores movement in your knee and relieves the pain. However, people who have an osteotomy may need knee replacement surgery in the future.
Joint replacement surgery, or arthroplasty, is a surgical procedure in which joints are replaced with artificial parts made from metals or plastic. The replacement could involve one side of the knee or the entire knee. Joint replacement surgery is usually reserved for people over age 50 with severe osteoarthritis. The surgery may need to be repeated later if the joint wears out again after several years, but with today’s modern advancements most new joints will last over 20 years. The surgery has risks, but the results are generally very good.