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Osteoarthritis of the knee refers to the gradual reduction (degradation) of cartilage within the knee joint. A degenerative condition, it can affect any age group, though typically affects the older generation where more wear and tear has been experienced on the joint.
The root cause of the condition is the reduction of cartilage causing bone on bone contact and this is the source of pain for sufferers.
It is worth noting that the average age of sufferers is decreasing, meaning more and more younger people are developing the condition. Previous knee injuries and ligament damage (typically acl ruptures) are factors which can affect the onset of the condition so it is important to be aware of the importance of protecting your knees now so as to minimise the risk later on.
Knee osteoarthritis is the most common form of the condition, followed by hip and then thumb / wrist, with statistics expecting the number of sufferers to increase over the next few decades.
As osteoarthritis of the knee is a degenerative condition there is no chance of it healing and the cartilage growing back, therefore there are only remedies to slow the degeneration down and reduce the pain, with replacement knee surgery being the end option.
The condition can affect both sides of the knee joint or just one (unicompartmental), which again refers to the severity of the condition and will determine the type of treatment options available to you.
The condition can be as serious as stopping a patient from walking to the shops or moving freely around their home or begin as a mild discomfort when moving and resting with inflammation of the joint following extended periods of exercise.
The main symptoms are pain in the knee joint following movement or exercise. In the event that this pain continues then you should consult a clinician who will be able to offer diagnosis, as early treatment is beneficial to help slow down the loss of cartilage.
The most important thing when considering osteoarthritis of the knee is diagnosis, as early diagnosis can promote early treatment which can slow down the onset of the condition. If you continue with knee pain without a diagnosis then you run the risk of being too far down the line to look at any option other than surgery and this is not something which should be taken lightly.
In addressing the non-surgical remedies, the objective is to have the patient increase their mobility as natural endorphins released during exercise act as painkillers, though the pain can be felt both during movement and when resting which can be very uncomfortable.
It does sound rather strange suggesting exercise and movement is a great way of tackling knee pain since it promotes further pain, however losing weight and being healthy will also reduce the load applied to the knee which is beneficial in the long run.
The use of painkillers and anti-inflammatories can help to improve mobility by taking the pain away, though they fail to address the pivotal issue which is the condition itself, as the pain will only hide the continued degeneration of the cartilage within the knee joint. Based on this the continued use of medication is not a long term solution, not to mention that there can be side effects and in time the body will get used to the dosage so that it will become less effective.
Another route taken by patients not wishing to embark on surgery is the use of a knee brace, though a common question of suffers is asking which is the best option for managing their stage of the condition. Typically your clinician will be able to offer their opinion on the best knee support available, but reviewing clinical evidence can allow you to make your own informed decision as there is a wealth of information on the internet.
Braces such as the Unloader One are specifically designed to manage the symptoms of unicompartmental osteoarthritis of the knee by reducing bone on bone contact and with it the pain felt by the patient. This type of brace works to off load the pressure from the affected side of the knee, which can offer significant improvements to mobility from reduced pain as well as delaying the need for surgery. By offloading it removes the pressure on the bone on bone side of the knee and moves it to the side with the unaffected (least affected) cartilage.
If you’re interested in seeing the Unloader One in action then Dr Sheila Strover from KNEEguru ran a test to assess the impact of the brace for those wearing it for the first time as well as testimonies of those who have been wearing the brace for some time. It is dubbed the ‘Unloader moment’ and is available here.
By reducing the pain and slowing down the degradation surgery can be delayed for a number of years, as improved levels of exercise help to keep the individual fit and the release of endorphins helps to act as a natural painkiller.
The Unloader One is considered to be one of the options for use in the management of osteoarthritis of the knee and is clinically proven to benefit the patient, with increased mobility and improved quality of life. As the alternative of surgery is a very serious operation, the use of the brace can help the patient stay on their feet and continue everyday life, from walking to the shops to riding a bike to going for a run.
It is important to note that knee braces are not for everyone and are typically focussed on those suffering from unicompartmental osteoarthritis, or where the condition simply affects just one side of the joint, as the brace works by moving pressure from the affected side to the unaffected side.
Surgery can cover both a partial or full knee replacement and is no small operation and can take up to six months before a patient is able to walk unaided. The replacement knee itself will last for up to 15 years but extensive physiotherapy and recuperation is required before getting anywhere near the activity levels experienced prior to the onset of the condition.
If you suspect you are suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee then you should seek a professional diagnosis, essential in being able to determine a treatment plan.
Following diagnosis you should consider your options with your doctor which will vary depending on the extent of the condition.
When it comes to knee braces you should look at all the options available and once again seek advice from your doctor. There are numerous sources online, reviews and even videos of different braces in action which you should take a look at. Most importantly you should try on the options available to you and see what they are like in the real world as you are looking for a solution to aid your mobility and reduce your pain levels.