Knee osteoarthritis is a painful degenerative joint disease that is associated with pain and stiffness of the knee joint. It is the most common form of arthritis in the knee and is a result of damage and loss of cartilage within the knee joint. Other symptoms of knee osteoarthritis include a swollen knee, restricted movement and bone spurs. This type of arthritis can affect a wide range of people, commonly after an injury or with age. The risk factors for osteoarthritis include obesity, secondary arthritis and genetic factors.
As a baseline, the starting point is Stage 0, indicating a healthy knee without any form of joint problem. Broadly, the stages of knee osteoarthritis are as follows:
This is the primary stage of knee osteoarthritis and is often asymptomatic. The joint space may appear intact, giving no suggestion that the cartilage is affected. However, in some cases, the knee joint could show miniature lumps of bone. Diagnosis at the minor stage of knee osteoarthritis can be impeded by the lack of symptoms and X-ray tests that appear normal. Typically, a doctor will prescribe supplements only if there is a risk factor for osteoarthritis. Treatment for knee osteoarthritis at this stage usually means shedding excess weight, correcting bad posture and an exercise regimen to strengthen the knee as well as the supporting muscles.
The second stage in knee osteoarthritis is the mild stage where symptoms could begin to manifest, making diagnosis easier. The thinning of cartilage and the appearance of lumps of bone are key indicators of knee osteoarthritis at this stage. The tissue around the affected area could start to become harder but typically there is no problem with movement since the presence of fluid still enables normal joint function. Symptoms could manifest as stiffness and discomfort or knee pain, possibly only after prolonged stress on the knees. Treatment at the mild stage consists of keeping knee osteoarthritis at bay through dietary modifications and strengthening, low-impact exercise. Special shoe inserts and/or supportive braces can help to reduce stress on the knee joint.
At the moderate stage of knee osteoarthritis, the cartilage loss and the increased joint space narrowing is likely to interfere with daily life. Pain or discomfort could flare up during routine activities, making it difficult to kneel or even walk. Other identifying symptoms of knee osteoarthritis at this stage are greater joint swelling and indications of inflammation. The continued breakdown in cartilage and complications caused by bone friction is what makes it necessary to make lifestyle changes to delay this type of progressive arthritis. Apart from treatment options indicated at the mild stage, additional measures could involve physical therapy and wearing orthopaedic-friendly footwear. In addition to pain relieving therapies, the doctor may also recommend prescription drugs and injections to reduce pain and discomfort.
The final stage of knee osteoarthritis is identifiable by greater damage to the cartilage, increased incidence of bone spurs and sometimes even bone deformities. The lack of cushioning and joint space in the knee area often results in debilitating pain even with simple movements. Patients at this stage of knee osteoarthritis might require corrective surgery or even knee replacement surgery. Unfortunately, the benefits of these measures may not be permanent and they come with a certain amount of risk. This is why early identification of knee osteoarthritis is imperative.
Knee osteoarthritis should never be ignored at any stage since it is a progressive affliction which can greatly impact mobility and functioning. Prevention of knee osteoarthritis includes regular exercise, proper posture and correct knee care in case of injury. Studies show that intensive weight loss will help to ease the stress on the knee joints and slow down the rate of cartilage loss. Your doctor may also recommend an osteoarthritic friendly diet which would help to provide your body with the nutrients it requires to repair the damaged cartilage. Depending on the case, treatment might mean limiting use of the knee joint while adhering to special exercises or stretches of the muscles around the knee area. While more studies are needed, some patients find relief with adjunctive therapies such as hot and cold therapy or acupuncture. Your doctor will tailor your knee osteoarthritis treatment, exercise and plan according to your response to various treatments.
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