Knee Osteoarthritis

Knee osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint condition in which the cartilage that cushions the knee joint wears down over time. This can lead to pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility in the knee.

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Knee Osteoarthritis
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Your Guide to Understanding Knee Osteoarthritis

What is Knee Osteoarthritis?

Knee osteoarthritis is a chronic degenerative joint condition that affects the knee joint, causing pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. It occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones in the knee joint gradually wears down over time. As a result, the bones may start rubbing against each other, leading to discomfort and inflammation.

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of knee osteoarthritis. The most common cause is aging, as the natural wear and tear on the joints over time can lead to the breakdown of cartilage. Repetitive stress on the knee joint, such as from activities like running, jumping, or kneeling, can also increase the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis. Additionally, previous knee injuries, such as fractures or ligament tears, can damage the cartilage and increase the likelihood of osteoarthritis. Genetic factors and certain medical conditions, such as obesity or rheumatoid arthritis, can also play a role in the development of knee osteoarthritis.

The symptoms of knee osteoarthritis can vary from person to person but often include pain, stiffness, swelling, aching, and limited range of motion in the knee joint. The pain may worsen with physical activity or after prolonged periods of inactivity, such as sitting or sleeping. Over time, the symptoms may become more persistent and affect daily activities like walking, climbing stairs, or bending the knee. In some cases, there may be a noticeable grating or crunching sensation, known as crepitus, when moving the knee joint.

While there is no cure for knee osteoarthritis, there are various treatment options available to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. These can include lifestyle modifications such as weight management and regular exercise to strengthen the muscles around the knee joint. Physical therapy may also be recommended to improve flexibility, mobility, and stability. Medications like pain relievers or anti-inflammatory drugs can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. In more severe cases, injections of corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid may be considered. In some instances, surgical interventions such as arthroscopy or joint replacement surgery may be necessary.

How can Physiotherapy help treat Knee Osteoarthritis?

Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in alleviating knee osteoarthritis by offering a multifaceted approach to treatment. Through patient education, physiotherapists empower individuals with self-management techniques to control symptoms and slow down the progression of the condition.

They employ various interventions such as supervised exercises, manual therapy techniques, thermal modalities, and pain management modalities like ice and heat therapy. By improving joint function, reducing pain and inflammation, and enhancing muscle strength and flexibility, physiotherapy helps individuals with knee osteoarthritis improve their overall quality of life.

Physiotherapy is considered a recommended non-pharmacological intervention for knee osteoarthritis by reputable organizations such as the American College of Rheumatology and the European League Against Rheumatism

What causes Knee Osteoarthritis?

Knee osteoarthritis is typically caused by a combination of factors. The most common cause is the natural wear and tear that occurs in the joints over time. As we age, the cartilage in our knees, which acts as a cushion between the bones, gradually breaks down. This can lead to the bones rubbing against each other, causing pain and inflammation.

Repetitive stress on the knee joint can also contribute to the development of knee osteoarthritis. Activities that involve frequent bending, kneeling, or heavy impact, such as running, jumping, or playing sports, can put strain on the knee and accelerate the breakdown of cartilage.

Previous knee injuries can also increase the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis. Fractures, ligament tears, or other traumatic injuries to the knee can damage the cartilage, making it more susceptible to deterioration.Genetic factors may play a role in the development of knee osteoarthritis as well. Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to weaker or less resilient cartilage, making them more prone to developing the condition.

Certain medical conditions, such as obesity or rheumatoid arthritis, can also contribute to the development of knee osteoarthritis. Excess weight places extra stress on the knee joints, while inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation and damage to the cartilage.

It's important to note that while these factors are commonly associated with knee osteoarthritis, it can also develop without any apparent cause. It is a complex condition influenced by a combination of factors, and individual experiences may vary.</p>

What treatments might help Knee Osteoarthritis?

The treatment for knee osteoarthritis aims to alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, improve joint function, and enhance overall quality of life. Here are some common approaches that can help improve knee osteoarthritis:

  • Exercise: Regular physical activity, including low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, or cycling, can strengthen the muscles around the knee, improve joint flexibility, and reduce pain associated with knee osteoarthritis.
  • Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight or losing excess weight can significantly relieve stress on the knee joints, reducing pain and slowing down the progression of knee osteoarthritis.
  • Medications by direct billing: Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs, such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can help manage pain and reduce inflammation in the knee joint.
  • Injections: Intra-articular corticosteroid injections or hyaluronic acid injections may be recommended by health insurances to provide temporary pain relief and improve joint mobility.
  • Physical Therapy: Working with a physical therapist can help develop an individualized exercise program, improve joint range of motion, strengthen muscles, and enhance overall function of the knee joint.
  • Assistive Devices: The use of assistive devices like braces, shoe inserts, or walking aids can provide support, reduce pressure on the knee joint, and improve stability during activities.
  • Alternative Therapies: Some individuals find relief with alternative therapies such as acupuncture or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). These treatments can help reduce pain and improve overall well-being, but their effectiveness may vary from person to person.

Signs of Knee Osteoarthritis:

Knee osteoarthritis can cause several signs and symptoms that may vary from person to person. Here are some common signs to watch out for:

  • Knee pain: Persistent or recurring pain in and around the knee joint is a common symptom of knee osteoarthritis. The pain may be dull, aching, or sharp, and it can worsen with activity or after prolonged periods of rest.
  • Stiffness: Feelings of stiffness and reduced flexibility in the knee joint, especially after periods of inactivity, such as waking up in the morning or sitting for an extended period, can be a sign of knee osteoarthritis.
  • Swelling: Osteoarthritis can sometimes cause swelling or noticeable enlargement of the knee joint due to inflammation. The swelling may come and go and may be accompanied by warmth or redness around the joint.
  • Reduced mobility: As knee osteoarthritis progresses, you may experience difficulty moving the affected knee joint fully. This can lead to a decreased range of motion, making it challenging to perform activities that require bending, squatting, or climbing stairs.
  • Joint tenderness: The affected knee joint may feel tender to the touch. Applying pressure or pressing on the knee can elicit discomfort or pain.
  • Grating or popping sensations: You might notice unusual sounds or sensations when moving your knee joint, such as grinding, popping, or a sensation of the joint "catching." These sensations are known as crepitus and can be a sign of knee osteoarthritis.

Symptoms of Knee Osteoarthritis:

Knee osteoarthritis can cause a variety of symptoms that can vary from person to person. Here are some common symptoms to look out for:

  • Pain: Persistent pain in the knee joint is a primary symptom of knee osteoarthritis. The pain may be localized to the knee or radiate from the joint to the surrounding areas. It can range from mild discomfort to severe and debilitating pain.
  • Stiffness: You may experience stiffness in the knee joint, particularly after periods of inactivity like sitting or sleeping. This stiffness can make it more challenging to move the knee smoothly and may improve with gentle movement.
  • Swelling: Knee osteoarthritis can cause inflammation in the joint, leading to swelling. The affected knee may appear larger than usual, feel warm to the touch, and be tender when pressure is applied.
  • Reduced Range of Motion: As the condition progresses, you may notice a decrease in your knee's range of motion. It may become challenging to fully straighten or bend the knee, making activities like walking or climbing stairs more difficult.
  • Clicking or Grinding Sensations: Some individuals with knee osteoarthritis may experience clicking, popping, or grinding sensations when moving the knee joint. These sensations, known as crepitus, can occur due to the roughening of the cartilage surfaces.
  • Muscle Weakness: Over time, knee osteoarthritis can cause muscle weakness around the knee joint. This weakness can further limit mobility and make it harder to perform daily activities.
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When is the right time to see a Physiotherapist for Knee Osteoarthritis?

The right time to see a physiotherapist for knee osteoarthritis is when you are experiencing symptoms that impact your daily life and quality of life. If you are having persistent knee pain, stiffness, reduced mobility, or difficulty performing activities that involve knee movement, it may be a good idea to seek professional help.

It is beneficial to consult with a healthcare professional as soon as you notice these symptoms or if they worsen over time. Early intervention and treatment can help manage pain, slow down the progression of knee osteoarthritis, and improve your overall function.

Additionally, if you have tried self-care measures such as rest, ice, over-the-counter pain medications, and exercise modifications, but your symptoms persist or worsen, it may be time to seek the expertise of a physiotherapist. These professionals can provide a comprehensive assessment, develop an individualized treatment plan, and guide you on lifestyle modifications that can support your knee health.

Meet our Lead Registered Physiotherapist

Brittany Pereira

Brittany Pereira

Registered Physiotherapist

Registered Physiotherapist with a degree from the University of Toronto

Brittany enjoys working with patients across age groups and backgrounds to help them move better, get stronger, understand their bodies and ultimately, feel more confident. She combines her knowledge and clinical experience to best serve her patients.

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Physiotherapist Brittany Pereira working with client at Anchor Health and Performance Clinic Mississauga
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