Osteoarthritis is a natural part of the aging process. Osteoarthritis is degeneration of the joint surfaces which will progress in severity. The cartilage coating the joint surfaces which reduces the amount of friction is gradually worn away. This will increase the friction within the joint, which will cause inflammation. In osteoarthritis of the knee, you will also get bony growths called osteophytes forming at the edge of the joints and cyst will form in the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone). This can be seen on an x-ray making the surface of the joint look oddly shaped.
What causes it?
There many factors that can influence the age of which osteoarthritis can begin, such as trauma, poor posture and dietary deficiencies. However, it is more commonly caused by repetitive stresses over a period of time, this can be occupational or sporting. Osteoarthritis onset can be brought about sooner by damage or removal of the menisci or parts of it previously. The menisci are fibrocartilage structures which act as shock absorbers and also aid in increasing the stability within the knee joint. Damage to the cartilage will also affect the amount of time taken before the onset of osteoarthritis.
How does it feel?
In the initial stages, there will be some pain within the knee during activity. There will also be stiffness and possibly pain within knee joint after periods of rest e.g. waking up in the morning. The stiffness can last up to approximately 30 minutes. As the disease progresses the patient may feel pain at night which may disturb sleep and an increase in the pain intensity and duration.
What you should do
Ice should be applied to the inflamed joint as this will aid in reducing the inflammation and pain. It should be applied for 20 minutes every few hours. Rest will help reduce the symptoms in an acute phase/flare up. Painkillers may help reduce the symptoms, however this will not help the cause of the pain. It is also important to stay mobile once the acute phase/flare up has passed, going on walks will also help. You should also increase your fluid intake. Swimming will also help in recovery as swimming is non-weight bearing and will help strengthen the muscles around the affected joint/s.
What you should not do
You should avoid aggravating the knee joint further. Once the acute phase has subsided exercises should be carried out such as going for short walks regularly. You should not stop exercising if possible as this will allow the disorder to progress further.
Long term effects
If left untreated, the disease may destroy the joint surfaces. This will then require knee replacement surgery. The pain in the knee may alter the way you walk and cause other parts of your body to compensate. This can cause problems such as early joint degeneration in the hip and in the low back.