Symptomatic Knee Osteoarthritis – Methods to Delay or Avoid Knee Replacement Surgery

There are more than 100 types of arthritis and osteoarthritis is the most common form – affecting an estimated 30 million people in the US (according to the Arthritis Foundation). As pain doctors in Chandler, we see many knee osteoarthritis patients. Athletes often develop osteoarthritis due to years of joint overuse and overwork. Similarly, people in the military and those who have jobs that require difficult physical labor are more susceptible to osteoarthritis than the general population.

Osteoarthritis is a chronic and very painful joint condition that is commonly found in the knees where it is referred to as symptomatic knee osteoarthritis. It develops when the normally smooth cartilage in the knee breaks down leading to swelling and pain that eventually becomes chronic. Bone spurs often begin to develop and, as the disease progresses, it can get to the point where bone is rubbing against bone. Once this stage is reached, surgical intervention is often necessary. But there are some things you can do to mitigate the pain and delay or even avoid knee replacement surgery.

Exercise and Lose Weight
Being overweight is tough on even the healthiest of knees, so it stands to reason that losing weight can help ease the pain of symptomatic knee osteoarthritis. Although the exact relationship is undefined, the medical community has established a link between obesity and osteoarthritis. Current government figures estimate that about 36 percent of obese American adults have arthritis.

Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine studied 12 obese adults who underwent weight-loss surgery. After participants lost an average of 57 pounds, they reported decreased knee pain and stiffness and the ability to move more easily. The study participant’s Knee Injury and Osteoarthritis Outcome Scores (KOOS) showed significant improvement from their pre-weight-loss scores. Similarly, their Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Arthritis Index (WOMAC) scores significantly improved. Both the KOOS and the WOMAC are widely used in the evaluation of knee osteoarthritis and measure patient complaints of symptoms and stiffness, pain, function of daily living, function in sports and recreational activities, and quality of life, among other things.

So this information simply backs up what we already knew – that losing weight helps reduce knee pain associated with osteoarthritis. Increasing your activity level can not only help you lose weight, but has the added benefit of helping ease the pain of osteoarthritis. Building muscle reduces the load placed on joints which helps to lessen pain. Yoga and resistance training are both great exercise choices for those suffering with knee osteoarthritis; yoga for gentle stretching and resistance training for muscle-building.

In addition to exercise and weight loss, cortisone injections can go a long way in relieving the pain associated with knee osteoarthritis. These steroid injections help to reduce joint inflammation in the knee for many people. But this should be used as an adjunct to losing weight and exercising.

Prescription drugs
If you have osteoarthritis pain you are probably very familiar with over-the-counter NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Always check with your doctor before taking an NSAID if you are on other medications or have health conditions. And, if these don’t provide enough relief, a prescription-strength NSAID may do the trick. That being said, as pain doctors in Chandler, we ask you to guard against overuse of NSAIDs for knee pain as they come with a host of side effects with long-term use. 

Knee osteoarthritis is not curable and as the disease goes on the cartilage can continue to break down. If it breaks down completely, knee replacement surgery will be your last remaining option, therefore you should see pain doctors in Chandler as early as possible in the progression of the disease. The good news is, if you’ve lost weight and built up some muscle, your recovery from surgery will be faster and less complicated.

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