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How Live with Osteoarthritis in the Knees: Causes and Treatments

Updated on October 20, 2009

Osteoarthritis (also known as: OA)is one of over 100 types of arthritis that can attack persons of any age. What makes osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative arthritis, so very different, is that is so very common, predictable, and treatable.

Commonly thought of as just a simple part of the aging process, osteoarthritis affects almost everyone in one or more joints by the time they reach midlife. In fact, it is the most common type of arthritis, affecting over 20 million people in the United States; and is one of the leading causes of disability in the over 50 age group. Osteoarthritis can be commonly found in the large weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees, hands, feet and spine. Basically, if a joint moves, it is in danger of degeneration at some point.

Osteoarthritis can affect any movable joint in the body.
Osteoarthritis can affect any movable joint in the body.

What Causes Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is caused by the breakdown of the cartilage of one or more joints. As this breakdown continues, it leads to the eventual loss of some or all of the articular cartilage covering the ends of bones within movable joints. This cartilage is a protein (known as hyaline) that provides as a "cushion" between the bones of the joints. As we age, the water content within the hyaline increases causing the protein to begin to loose structure and breakdown.

As the cartilage begins to degenerate, flaking and tiny crevasses occur. This loss of cushioning within the joints leads to an increase in friction causing inflammation within the joint. The body perceives this friction as a wound, and send massive amounts of cells to heal the wound. This natural process can lead to chronic swelling, pain, and th formation of bone spurs. In advanced cases, there is a total loss of cartilage cushion between the bones of the joints. Repetitive use of the worn joints over the years can irritate and inflame the cartilage, causing joint pain and swelling.

Osteoarthritis occasionally can develop in multiple members of the same family, implying a hereditary (genetic) basis for this condition.

While this is a common degenerative disease affecting all races, and in all countries; there is a higher instance in the Japanese population, while South African blacks, East Indians, and Southern Chinese have lower rates. This has lead many researchers to speculate on dietary involvements.

According to the Mayo Clinic, factors that increase your risk of osteoarthritis include:

  • Older age. Osteoarthritis typically occurs in older adults. People under 40 rarely experience osteoarthritis.
  • Gender Women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis, though it isn't clear why. Before age 45, osteoarthritis occurs more frequently in males. After age 55 years, it occurs more frequently in females. Because of the way in which the femurs sits in the hip socket, women have a different alignment in the lower limb bones which can cause increased pressures in the knee joints
  • Bone deformities. Some people are born with malformed joints or defective cartilage, which can increase the risk of osteoarthritis.
  • Joint injuries. Injuries, such as those that occur when playing sports or from an accident, including joint compressions, fractures and ligament tears, may increase the risk of osteoarthritis.
  • Obesity. Carrying more body weight places more stress on your weight-bearing joints, such as your knees. But obesity has also been linked to an increased risk of osteoarthritis in the hands, as well. Even a small amount of extra weight can cause extra some pressure and increase pain.
  • Other diseases that affect the bones and joints. Bone and joint diseases that increase the risk of osteoarthritis include gout, rheumatoid arthritis, Paget's disease of bone and septic arthritis.

What to do if you have Joint Pain

First, Seek medical advice if you experience pain, redness, heat, swellings and or reduce range of motion, for two weeks or more. Because there are so many types of bone disorders, injuries, and diseases, it is best to get a good diagnosis.

There are many really good treatment for Osteoarthritis. Remember, everyone is different and not all treatments are great for every one, but, these are good tips for mild to moderate OA.

  • Rest. this common sense. If your joints hurt or become inflamed, give them time off. Rest the joint for 12 to 24 hours. Try an ice pack with 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off. Many people also find benefit from contrast treatments that altenate heat and cold - again 20 minutes on then change for 20 minutes. Find activities that don't require you to use your joint repetitively., but if you must ,try taking a 10-minute break every hour.
  • Gentle Exercise. With your doctor's approval, get regular exercise when you feel up to it. Stick to exercises such as walking, biking or swimming that lower the impacts on knees and spine.
  • Flexibility is key as you age. When the muscles and other soft tissues are overly tightened, unnecessary pressures form on the joints. Always warm muscles with gently exercise, or a hot bath before stretching to avoid further injury.
  • Try a Pilates class. Originally called “control logy “ by founder Joseph Pilates, this method of exercise retrains you body to move consciously and with muscle control. There is no better way than is very gently method to increase strength and flexibility. Any one or any age, size or with any physical limitation can learn the Pilates Method.
  • Watch your weight. Being overweight increases the stress on your weight-bearing joints, such as your knees and your hips.

  • Ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist. The physical therapist can work with you to create an individualized exercise plan that will strengthen the muscles around your joint, increase your range of motion in your joint and reduce your pain.
  • Find ways to avoid stressing your joints. To find ways to go about your day without stressing your joints, seek the advice of an occupational therapist.
  • Try braces or shoe inserts. Consider trying special splints, braces, shoe inserts or other medical devices that can help reduce your pain. These devices can immobilize or support your joint to help you keep pressure off it.
  • Watch your diet. Many foods have been found to increase inflammation in the body, as do food allergies. Keep a journal of what you eat and how you feel for at least two weeks and see if you can find any patterns. 
  • Some supplements have been found to bring relief from joint pain and inflammation.  Products containing hyaluranic acid, glucosamine, chondroitin, Omega 3,6,&9 and CoQ10 may be useful.  Also, watch your sodium intake.

Common Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

  • Pain relieving creams and gels. Creams and gels available at the drugstore may provide temporary relief from osteoarthritis pain. Read the label so you know what you're using. Some creams numb the pain by creating a hot or cool sensation. Other creams contain medications, such as aspirin-like compounds, that are absorbed into your skin. Also, some of these products contain natural ingredients that some people are allergic to such as capsicum, camphor, or menthol.

  • Acetaminophen. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) can relieve pain, but doesn't reduce inflammation. It has been shown to be effective for people with osteoarthritis who have mild to moderate pain. Be careful, taking more than the recommended dose of this over-the-counter medication can cause liver damage and results in many deaths each year.

  • NSAIDs. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are medications that both relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Over-the-counter NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve). Side effects may include ringing in your ears, gastric ulcers, cardiovascular problems, gastrointestinal bleeding, and liver and kidney damage; especially if you smoke or drink alcohol.

Be sure to tell your doctor if you are using or taking any of these products.

Osteoarthitis, Commonly Known as Degerative Joint Disease

OA can be found in any of the body's movable joints.
OA can be found in any of the body's movable joints.
Knees are one of joints most effected by weight gain, and one of the mostly common joint to be treated surgically.
Knees are one of joints most effected by weight gain, and one of the mostly common joint to be treated surgically.
Like knees, hips are often surgically replaced.
Like knees, hips are often surgically replaced.
Wrist pain can be reduced by wearing lightweight elastic type braces and wraps.
Wrist pain can be reduced by wearing lightweight elastic type braces and wraps.
Degeneration in the spine may require fusion surgery.
Degeneration in the spine may require fusion surgery.

What do you think?

Have you experienced oestoarthritis pain?

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    • Judith Rizzo profile imageAUTHOR

      Judith Rizzo 

      6 years ago from Phoenix ~ The Valley of the Sun

      So glad to be able to offer you some good information! The best way to treat any type of chronic condition it to be good to yourself. you are on the right tract! Blessing, Judith

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      6 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      That was very timely! I visited a doctor yesterday with a sore and swollen knee and this is what he said my problem is. He suggested the cold compresses and also firm bandaging of the knee. For medication: only Panadol-Osteo. However, I've been very lax with my diet lately as I know my body does not like some foods, so it back to being more disciplined with my food and we'll see what happens. Thank you.

    • Judith Rizzo profile imageAUTHOR

      Judith Rizzo 

      6 years ago from Phoenix ~ The Valley of the Sun

      Well, SusieQ42, chances are you have at least some OA somewhere. OA is associated with repetitive use and aging. It is a natural occurrence for nearly all mammals. Good news is that of course we can manage and diminish the effects of OA! If you have concerns, ask you primary care doc about your risks and what is right for you to do to manage your own health. Good luck & keep moving!!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I read this because I've had pain in my knees, shoulder and finger. I was wondering if I have OA because I'm nearly 60 years old and my sister, who is 5 years younger than me has had it for at least 10 yrs. now. Thanks for the useful info! Voted up, up, up!


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