Treatments for Arthritis in Knees. Where to Start.

Treatments for Arthritis in Knees. Where to Start.

By Professional Physical Therapy

Arthritis is a common condition affecting millions of people, with the knees being one of the most affected joints. It can cause pain, stiffness, and decreased mobility, impacting many everyday activities, such as walking or climbing stairs. However, with the right approach to treatment, individuals can ease their symptoms, potentially slow the progression, regain function, and keep staying active.

Knee arthritis refers to inflammation and deterioration of the cartilage in one or more joints in the knee. It gradually wears away your cartilage, the cushioning between the bones of your knee. Without that protection, your bones rub against each other causing pain, stiffness, and limited movement.

Types of Knee Arthritis

There are several types of arthritis that can affect the knees, including:

  1. Osteoarthritis: This is the most common type of arthritis, often referred to as a degenerative “wear-and-tear” arthritis. It occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of bones wears down over time, leading to knee pain and stiffness. Osteoarthritis occurs most often in people over 50 years of age and older, although it may occur in younger people, too.
  2. Rheumatoid Arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to mistakenly attack the synovium, the lining of the membranes that surround the joints. This can lead to inflammation, pain, and eventual joint damage.
  3. Post-traumatic Arthritis: This type of arthritis develops after a knee injury, such as a fracture or ligament tear. The injury can damage the cartilage and lead to arthritis symptoms over time.

Causes of Knee Arthritis

Several risk factors can contribute to the development of knee arthritis, including:

  • Age: The risk of knee arthritis increases with age.
  • Genetics: Family history can play a role in predisposing individuals to arthritis.
  • Previous Knee Injury: Injuries to the knee, such as fractures or ligament tears, can increase the risk of arthritis.
  • Weight: Excess weight puts added stress on the knees, increasing the risk of arthritis.
  • Joint Overuse: Repetitive stress on the knees from activities such as running or kneeling can contribute to arthritis.

 Knee Arthritis Symptoms

Common symptoms of knee arthritis include:

  • Pain, particularly with movement or weight-bearing activities.
  • Stiffness, especially after periods of rest or inactivity.
  • Swelling and inflammation around the knee joint.
  • Difficulty bending or straightening the knee fully.
  • Weakness or instability in the knee.

Living with knee arthritis goes beyond physical discomfort; it can also take a significant toll on mental health. Chronic pain and reduced mobility can lead to frustration, anxiety, and depression, highlighting the importance of addressing these psychological challenges.

 Knee Arthritis Treatments

Treatment for knee arthritis aims to relieve pain, improve function, and slow the progression of the disease. Depending on the severity of symptoms, treatment options may include:

  • Medications: Pain relievers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and corticosteroid injections can help manage pain and inflammation.
  • Physical Therapy: A tailored exercise program designed by a physical therapist can strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee, improve flexibility, and enhance joint stability. This plan may include:
    • Exercise Prescription: Strengthening exercises targeting the muscles around the knee joint can help improve stability and support, reducing pain and preventing further damage. Range of motion exercises can also help maintain flexibility and reduce stiffness.
    • Manual Therapy: Hands-on techniques such as joint mobilization and soft tissue mobilization can help improve joint mobility and reduce pain.
    • Functional Training: Physical therapists can teach individuals proper body mechanics and movement patterns to minimize stress on the knees during daily activities.
    • Modalities: Therapeutic modalities such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation, or heat/cold therapy may be used to alleviate pain and inflammation.
    • Lifestyle Management & Patient Education: PTs can empower patients with knowledge about managing knee arthritis which is key to successful long-term outcomes. They can also guide lifestyle modifications such as adopting a nutritious diet that can have a profound impact on symptom relief and overall well-being.
  • Assistive Devices: The use of braces, canes, or orthotic shoe inserts can help reduce stress on the knee joint and improve mobility.
  • Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce stress on the knees and alleviate symptoms of arthritis.
  • Surgical Options: In severe cases where conservative treatments fail to provide relief, surgical interventions such as arthroscopy, osteotomy, or knee replacement may be necessary.

Along with physical recovery treatment, it is important to remember coping strategies, mental health support, and fostering a strong network of social support which are essential for holistic care. Recognizing and treating the psychological aspects of arthritis is as crucial as managing physical symptoms.

Emerging Knee Arthritis Treatments and Research

 Professional ‘s Robert Shapiro, PT, DPT, COMT, Vice President of Clinical Excellence weighs in on emerging treatments and shares, “As we continue to seek innovative approaches to manage knee arthritis, emerging treatments like stem cell therapy and PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections are garnering attention. These cutting-edge therapies are currently under extensive research to evaluate their effectiveness in promoting cartilage repair and reducing inflammation. Although still in the exploratory phase, they represent a promising frontier in arthritis care, offering hope for potentially transformative outcomes.”

Types of Exercises and Stretches to Help Knee Arthritis

Exercise is a vital component of managing knee arthritis, as it helps strengthen the muscles around the knee joint, improves flexibility, and enhances overall joint function. When performing exercises for knee arthritis, it’s essential to focus on low-impact activities that minimize stress on the knees while maximizing benefits. Here are some types of exercises and stretches that can help alleviate symptoms of knee arthritis:

  • Low-Impact Aerobic Exercise: Activities such as walking, swimming, and cycling are excellent choices for individuals with knee arthritis. These exercises provide cardiovascular benefits without placing excessive strain on the knees. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise on most days of the week.
  • Strength Training: Strengthening exercises target the muscles surrounding the knee joint, providing support and stability. Focus on exercises that target the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles. Examples include leg presses, hamstring curls, calf raises, and wall squats. Start with light resistance and gradually increase as tolerated.
  • Range of Motion Exercises: Maintaining or improving joint flexibility is crucial for managing knee arthritis. Perform gentle range of motion exercises to help maintain flexibility and reduce stiffness in the knee joint. Examples include knee bends, heel slides, and leg lifts. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds, repeating several times throughout the day.
  • Stretching Exercises: Stretching can help alleviate muscle tightness and improve joint mobility. Focus on stretching the muscles surrounding the knee joint, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. Examples of knee arthritis stretches include quadriceps stretches, hamstring stretches, and calf stretches. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds, repeating several times on each side.
  • Water-Based Exercises: Aquatic exercises, such as water walking or water aerobics, are excellent options for individuals with knee arthritis. The buoyancy of water reduces the impact on the joints while providing resistance for strengthening and flexibility exercises.
  • Tai Chi and Yoga: Tai Chi and yoga are gentle forms of exercise that incorporate controlled movements, breathing techniques, and mindfulness. These practices can help improve balance, flexibility, and overall well-being, making them beneficial for individuals with knee arthritis.

Before starting any exercise program, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional, particularly if you have underlying health conditions or concerns about your knee pain. A physical therapist can provide guidance on the most appropriate exercises for your individual needs and help you develop a safe and effective exercise plan. Remember to listen to your body and modify exercises as needed to avoid exacerbating symptoms. With consistency and proper guidance, exercise can be a powerful tool in managing knee arthritis.

Early intervention and comprehensive treatment are the best ways to manage symptoms and maintain an active lifestyle. If you’re experiencing knee pain or stiffness, our team of skilled clinicians can help. Contact us at Professional Physical Therapy today.  Request an appointment to schedule a comprehensive evaluation and take the first step towards better joint health.

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