The knee, along with the hip and ankle, is the joint most often affected by osteoarthritis. MRI results show that 50% of people over 65 have osteoarthritis of the knee. However, «only» 30% of them suffer chronic pain. Knee osteoarthritis is therefore a common disease.
What is osteoarthritis?
The purpose of joint cartilage is to keep the joints supple and protect them. However, in osteoarthritis, the thin layer of cartilage that surrounds the thigh and lower leg bones degenerates. The bones then end up rubbing against each other. If several joints are affected by pain, this is called polyosteoarthritis.
Causes of osteoarthritis
Contrary to what is widely believed, osteoarthritis is not simply a mechanical problem. It does not occur solely as a result of excessive or misplaced strain. According to Thomas Pap, professor at the University of Münster, genetic predisposition, inflammatory reactions in the body and also stress play an equally important role. There is therefore no point in simply sparing your joints. According to Professor Pap, the same applies to the brain: you don't suffer from dementia because you think too much.
Generally, wear and tear is not the only factor responsible for osteoarthritis as it is usually a combination of several causes:
- Poor posture
- Excessive strain
- Genetic predisposition
- Inflammatory diseases
- Lack of exercise
Preventing osteoarthritis of the knee
Studies have shown that muscles are often already weakened before the first signs of osteoarthritis appear. Even if muscle weakness is not the only possible cause, it is clear that joints must withstand more strain when muscles are weak. Physical activity is therefore an important way of strengthening muscles and preventing osteoarthritis. However, it is neither a guarantee against osteoarthritis nor the only preventive measure:
- Exercise: exercise is important not only during treatment, but also as a preventive measure against osteoarthritis. A study has shown that cycling is an excellent solution.
- Lose excess weight
- Correct bad posture
- Stop smoking
- Eat a balanced diet
Depending on the stage of the disease, osteoarthritis manifests itself differently. Typical signs include:
- Dull or stabbing pain
- Morning pain
- Pain due to fatigue, after prolonged standing, for example
- Pain due to strain, or constant pain in advanced stages
- Reduced mobility
Knee pain: how can I relieve the pain myself?
Even though it may take some effort, exercise relieves pain in many cases, supplies the knee joint with fluid and provides it with nutrients. Which type of exercise is best varies greatly from one person to the other. If the pain is severe, water exercises (crawl, aquafit or aquacycling), for example, are recommended. The general guideline is: take exercise, but without overstraining the knee. For this reason, endurance activities such as walking, hiking, cycling and cross-country skiing are also good.
- Warmth, but also cold in the case of inflammation
- If there's no other way: painkillers
- Complementary medicine
There are hundreds of methods that promise to relieve or even cure osteoarthritis. With the vast number of herbal remedies available, it is difficult to estimate how effective they really are. But there is evidence that popular remedies based on devil's claw, arnica, comfrey and willow bark are helpful in relieving pain. When the pain is acute, traditional Chinese medicine is also a possible treatment method.
Therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee
It is important to find the right therapy for long-term results.
- Exercise therap
Correction of poor posture or muscular imbalance with physiotherapy;
Mobilisation and relaxation: often, it is tension that causes pain.
- Reducing fat tissue, because it produces inflammatory messengers, called cytokines, which reach the cartilage via the metabolism.
- Treatment with medication (painkillers, NSAIDs, cortisone, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid)
- Orthopaedic aids
- Surgical treatment
Osteoarthritis and diet
Although the effects of osteoarthritis cannot – unfortunately – simply be eaten away, nutrition is extremely important: firstly, because every extra kilo means more strain on the joints and, secondly, because fat tissue is highly active and influences inflammatory processes. A high proportion of fat in the body therefore facilitates inflammation.
Is it possible to cure osteoarthritis?
According to medical literature, osteoarthritis is incurable. That’s why we don’t talk about curing it, but treating it. With a well-balanced array of therapies, some patients have been so successful in managing the pain and restrictions that they scarcely feel any impairment. However, pain varies greatly from person to person. There are people with advanced osteoarthritis who never feel it. Others suffer pain even with mild osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis doesn't evolve constantly, but often appears in sudden attacks, which sometimes makes it difficult to treat.