Osteoarthritis and knee pain? What physical therapy can do to help get you up and moving again.
After a “long winter’s nap” with spring approaching people begin to dust off the golf clubs or garden trowels and prepare to head outside and enjoy the sun. Unfortunately for many people, their fun in the sun is curtailed due to chronic knee pain from osteoarthritis. In the US, it is estimated that over 6 million people ages 45 to 65 years have pain and other symptoms related to knee osteoarthritis (OA).
OA is a progressive disease that damages the slippery cartilage located on the end of bones. This cartilage cushions the joints and helps it move smoothly and freely. As the cartilage is damaged and wears away, the contact of bone on bone can create pain, especially during weight-bearing activities like walking. The symptoms of OA include persistent pain in the knee, stiffness with movement in the morning, snapping or popping sound in knee when moving, swelling, and decreased range of motion. Unfortunately, as pain increases people, tend to move less creating muscle weakness, decreased endurance, and increased risk of falling.
Many believe the only way to treat knee OA is with surgery, but according to a 2013 analysis published in the New England Journal of Medical, research suggests that in many cases there is little difference in improvement of pain and functional levels of patients who chose physical therapy alone versus patients who chose corrective surgery (specifically an arthroscopic partial meniscectomy).
So what would I do in physical therapy? The physical therapist will begin with a full review of your symptoms, any X-rays/MRIs, along with a review of your past medical history. In addition, the PT will analyze your gait (how you walk) and assess your current strength and range of motion. Following your comprehensive assessment, the PT will create a treatment plan specific to your needs and goals.
Your one on one sessions will include strengthening of the muscles that surround the knee to improve support of the knee joint. Tight muscles often create a pull across the joint increasing pain therefore stretching and flexibility exercises are included to improve the knee range of motion. The PT may prescribe an assistive device such as a cane or orthotics for your shoes to help decrease the load on the joint and decrease pain.
As you progress, your sessions will focus on how to return to the things you enjoy. For example, if you love gardening or playing golf, your sessions can focus on teaching you safe and proper ways to perform those activities in a way that minimizes stress on your knees, helping you better control the pain. In addition to sessions in the clinic, you will also be provided with an easy to follow Home Exercise Program (HEP) to help maintain the gains you make in therapy.
If knee pain from OA is slowing you down, talk with your physical therapist and your doctor about the benefits of physical therapy to manage your knee pain so you get back to the things you enjoy and have some fun in the sun.
By Teresa Powell
Licensed Physical Therapists Assistant
Deshpande BR, Katz JN, Solomon DH, et al. Number of persons with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis in the US: impact of race and ethnicity, age, sex, and obesity. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2016;68:1743–1750. Article Summary in PubMed.
Katz JN, Brophy RH, Chaisson CE, et al. Surgery versus physical therapy for a meniscal tear and osteoarthritis [published correction appears in: N Engl J Med. 2013;369:683]. N Engl J Med. 2013;368:1675–1684. Free Article.
For additional information on OA and how physical therapy can help go to:
APTA:Move Forward – Osteoarthritis of the Knee. (2017, October 11). https://www.moveforwardpt.com/SymptomsConditionsDetail.aspx?cid=e46bb793-4cfa-48ec-9821-ceba2d4c54ab#.VZKKfRtViko