A Positive Public Service Announcement about Knee Osteoarthritis
So, you’ve been told that the knee pain you’ve been experiencing for years and finally got around to mentioning to your doctor, is osteoarthritis (or OA). After getting an X-Ray or MRI, your doctor also told you that there’s nothing you can do about it, except to take pain tablets when needed and then in a few years you’ll need a total knee replacement. Great. Now what?
We’re here to tell you the best news ever. We have OA too! Except we don’t like to think of it as a chronic degenerative disease of the joints (yikes!)… We like to think of it as totally normal age-related changes. Because that’s exactly what it is! Anyone past the age of 25 is likely to have some form of OA. Think of it as wrinkles, but instead of on your skin, they’re in your joints.
That being said, we already hear you. “My wrinkles don’t stop me from running!” “My wrinkles don’t ache at night or force me to take 30 minutes to get up in the morning because of stiffness!” “But the doctor said it was bone-on-bone!”
Now here’s the good news. And the bad news.
Good news: you can absolutely get back to the activities that are most important to you with less pain and more confidence in your joints.
Bad news: you need to work for it.
There are many factors that contribute to OA and pain; it’s exceptionally complicated. However, there are a few proven things that help make life a little easier living with OA… err… totally normal age-related changes.
Firstly, if you’re overweight, losing weight will help. This is not just because there will be less load for your joints to carry, but because fat tissue causes increased inflammation in the body. Increased inflammation sensitizes the internal structures around your knee that can contribute to pain. So, if you lose fat, you lose the inflammation and in turn, improve your knee pain.
Secondly, strengthening the muscles around your joints improves pain scores and daily function. There are a lot of theories out there as to why this happens, from having the muscles reduce the load through the joints, to exercise having a pain inhibition effect. Either way, it works. Your physiotherapist or exercise physiologist will take you through a gradual and progressive exercise program that will take into account your pain levels so that you’re motivated to exercise instead of worrying you won’t be able to walk the next day.
So basically, you need to get active.
Joints love movement because that’s what they’re designed to do. If you’re worried that pain will get in the way, that’s where a good health care professional comes into play to help get you there. It can take anywhere from 3-12 months to fully gain control of your life again, but when it comes to the other options (injections, surgeries, etc.) it’s the best and safest choice you have. And at the end of it, you’re fitter and healthier. Win-win!