Knee osteoarthritis is a common degenerative joint disease that causes pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility.
It is important to understand the symptoms, causes, and diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis in order to seek appropriate treatment. In this article, we will explore the key aspects of knee osteoarthritis and highlight why physiotherapy should be considered as the first line of treatment before considering surgery.
Table of Contents
- What is Knee Osteoarthritis?
- Symptoms of Knee Osteoarthritis
- Causes of Knee Osteoarthritis
- Diagnosing Knee Osteoarthritis
- The Importance of Physiotherapy for Knee Osteoarthritis Treatment
- Techniques Used in Physiotherapy for Knee Osteoarthritis
- Other Non-Surgical Treatment Options
- When Surgery is Necessary
- Rehabilitation and Recovery After Knee Surgery
1. What is Knee Osteoarthritis?
Knee osteoarthritis (OA), also known as degenerative joint disease, is a chronic condition characterised by the progressive loss of articular cartilage in the knee joint. This loss of cartilage leads to the bones rubbing against each other, causing pain, swelling, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. While knee osteoarthritis can affect people of all ages, it is more prevalent in older adults.
2. Symptoms of Knee Osteoarthritis
The symptoms of knee osteoarthritis can vary from person to person, but common signs include:
- Gradual onset of knee pain, which worsens with activity
- Stiffness in the knee, especially in the morning or after prolonged periods of rest
- Swelling around the knee joint
- Creaking or cracking sounds (crepitus) during joint movement
- Instability or a feeling of the knee “giving way”
- Limited range of motion in the knee joint
3. Causes of Knee Osteoarthritis
The exact cause of knee osteoarthritis is not fully understood, but several factors can increase the risk of developing this condition. These include:
- Age: The risk of knee osteoarthritis increases with age, as the ability of cartilage to heal decreases over time.
- Gender: Women are more likely to develop knee osteoarthritis compared to men.
- Obesity: Excess weight puts additional stress on the knee joints, leading to cartilage damage and increased risk of osteoarthritis.
- Previous joint injuries: Traumatic injuries to the knee, such as ligament tears or fractures, can increase the chances of developing knee osteoarthritis later in life.
- Repetitive stress on the knee joint: Certain occupations or sports activities that involve repetitive knee movements or high-impact activities can contribute to the development of knee osteoarthritis.
- Genetics: Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to knee osteoarthritis, making them more susceptible to the condition.
4. Diagnosing Knee Osteoarthritis
To diagnose knee osteoarthritis, a healthcare professional will consider several factors, including a thorough medical history, physical examination, and imaging tests. The doctor may:
- Assess the patient’s symptoms and medical history to determine the presence of risk factors.
- Perform a physical examination, checking for signs of joint swelling, tenderness, and limited range of motion.
- Order imaging tests, such as X-rays, to evaluate the extent of cartilage loss, bone spurs, and joint damage.
X-rays are the most common imaging modality used to diagnose knee osteoarthritis. They can reveal the narrowing of joint spaces and the presence of bone spurs, indicating the degenerative changes associated with the condition.
5. The Importance of Physiotherapy for Knee Osteoarthritis Treatment
Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in the management of knee osteoarthritis. It offers non-invasive and conservative treatment options that can help alleviate pain, improve joint function, and enhance the overall quality of life for individuals with knee osteoarthritis. Physiotherapy for knee osteoarthritis should be considered as the first line of treatment before considering more invasive options, such as surgery.
A physiotherapy expert in Singapore can provide personalised care and develop a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to the individual’s specific needs and goals. The primary objectives of physiotherapy in knee osteoarthritis treatment include:
- Pain management: Physiotherapists can employ various techniques, such as manual therapy, therapeutic exercises, and modalities like heat or ice, to help reduce pain and inflammation in the knee joint.
- Improving joint mobility and flexibility: Through targeted exercises and stretching, physiotherapy can help improve the range of motion in the knee joint, allowing for better functional mobility.
- Strengthening the muscles around the knee: Strengthening exercises can help stabilise the knee joint and alleviate stress on the affected area.
- Education and self-management strategies: Physiotherapists can educate individuals about proper body mechanics, joint protection techniques, and lifestyle modifications to manage symptoms and prevent further progression of knee osteoarthritis.
6. Physiotherapy Techniques for Knee Osteoarthritis
Physiotherapy for knee osteoarthritis may involve various techniques and modalities, including:
- Manual therapy: Hands-on techniques, such as joint mobilisation and soft tissue mobilisation, can help improve joint mobility, reduce pain, and enhance overall function.
- Therapeutic exercises: Specific exercises targeting the muscles around the knee joint can help improve strength, stability, and flexibility. These exercises may include; range of motion exercises, strengthening exercises, and balance training.
- Assistive devices: Physiotherapists may recommend the use of assistive devices, such as braces, orthotics, or walking aids, to provide support, relieve pain, and improve mobility.
- Modalities: Heat and cold therapy, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and other modalities may be used to alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, and promote tissue healing.
It is important to note that physiotherapy treatment plans are highly individualised, and the specific techniques used may vary depending on the patient’s condition, preferences, and goals.
7. Other Non-Surgical Treatment Options
In addition to physiotherapy, there are several other non-surgical treatment options that can be considered for knee osteoarthritis:
- Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), may be recommended to manage pain and inflammation. However, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any medication.
- Injections: Corticosteroid injections or injections of hyaluronic acid may be used to provide temporary pain relief and reduce inflammation in the knee joint.
- Weight management: Maintaining a healthy weight or losing excess weight can help alleviate stress on the knee joints and reduce symptoms of knee osteoarthritis.
- Assistive devices: The use of braces, orthotics, or other assistive devices can help provide support and stability to the knee joint, reducing pain and improving mobility.
8. When Surgery is Necessary
In some cases, when conservative treatments fail to provide sufficient relief, surgery may be necessary to address severe knee osteoarthritis. Surgical options for knee osteoarthritis include:
- Arthroscopy: This minimally invasive procedure involves inserting a small camera and surgical instruments into the knee joint to remove damaged tissue or bone spurs.
- Osteotomy: This procedure involves repositioning the bones around the knee joint to relieve pressure on the damaged area and redistribute weight-bearing forces.
- Knee replacement surgery: In more advanced cases of knee osteoarthritis, total or partial knee replacement may be recommended. This involves removing the damaged joint surfaces and replacing them with artificial implants.
The decision to undergo surgery is typically made in consultation with a healthcare professional, taking into consideration factors such as the severity of symptoms, functional limitations, and the individual’s overall health.
9. Rehabilitation and Recovery After Knee Surgery
Following knee surgery, rehabilitation plays a crucial role in optimising outcomes and facilitating a successful recovery. Physiotherapy is an essential component of post-operative care and focuses on:
- Pain management: Physiotherapists can employ various techniques, such as manual therapy and modalities like ice or heat, to help alleviate post-surgical pain and swelling.
- Restoring mobility and range of motion: Gentle exercises and stretching are gradually introduced to restore joint mobility and flexibility in the knee.
- Strengthening and stability exercises: As the healing progresses, targeted exercises are incorporated to strengthen the muscles around the knee joint, enhancing stability and function.
- Gradual return to activities: Physiotherapists work closely with individuals to develop a customised rehabilitation program that gradually reintroduces activities and improves functional abilities.
- Education and self-management strategies: Physiotherapists provide guidance on proper post-operative care, activity modification, and long-term self-management strategies to promote a successful recovery and prevent future complications.
Knee arthritis is a chronic condition that can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. Understanding the symptoms, causes, and diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis is essential for effective management and treatment. Physiotherapy for knee osteoarthritis plays a vital role in the non-surgical management, providing personalised care, pain relief, and improved function.
By considering physiotherapy for knee osteoarthritis as the first line of treatment, individuals can enhance their overall well-being and potentially avoid or delay the need for surgical intervention. If you are experiencing knee pain or suspect knee osteoarthritis, consult with a healthcare professional and consider physiotherapy as part of your treatment plan. Don’t let knee osteoarthritis limit your mobility and quality of life; take proactive steps towards a pain-free future. Contact us for an appointment today!