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Arthritis or joint inflammation is a common complaint among older adults. The knee joint is one of the largest joints and is more prone to such inflammatory and painful conditions – osteoarthritis is the primary cause of such pains. It is a joint that bears most of the body weight during movements thus more prone to “wear and tear” issues.
Arthritis knee pain is caused by changes in the joint, deformation of adjoining bones and their surfaces, and change in joint fluid (thus reduced lubrication).
Quite frequently, joint inflammation spreads to nearby ligaments and tendons. Knee pain is made worse due to spasm of adjacent muscles too.
It is indeed a disease of the aging population, and is more common among adults, though some young individuals may also have it due to trauma. It is estimated that at any given time about 25% of adults above the age of 55 years are living with arthritis knee pain. 10-15% of older men and women are living with chronic knee arthritis.
Knowing the risk factors may help prevent arthritis pain, though not all are avoidable. One of the most common reasons for an increase in the prevalence of knee arthritis is the increase in the aging population.
Some individuals are genetically more vulnerable to the condition. Females are also at higher risk of painful knee conditions.
Among the preventable risk factors are obesity, trauma, muscle weakness, frequent sprains and strains, mechanical stress on the joints, wrong posture while working, too much kneeling and squatting.
Usually, knee arthritis is not difficult to diagnose because a person will experience chronic pain along with stiffness of the joints.
Stiffness and pain are more significant in the morning and may lessen during the day as the joints become warmer and better lubricated due to increased movement.
As the disease progress, a range of motion is compromised. Swelling is present in the majority of cases.
To understand the severity of the condition, doctors may carry out specific tests, such as X-rays which are commonly used to estimate the severity of disease along with other blood tests.
Currently, there is no cure for arthritis which is mainly due to the irreversible changes in the joint, however, we may be able to slow down the progress while controlling the pain. Any treatment aims to minimize the pain and maximize joint movement.
What helps with arthritis? Well, medication may help in acute pain, but it is not a long-term solution. Over the long run, non-pharmacological treatments are the ones that work best. Choice of treatment will depend on the acuteness of pain too.
To treat knee arthritis, it is best to use a combination of therapies. Some of the ways to reduce arthritis pain are:
- Increase your physical activity – as it helps maintain strength, flexibility, mobility, and keeps joints stronger.
- Reduce body weight - especially if you are obese to reduce the stress on your joints.
- Muscle strengthening – will help reduce stress from joints, improve balance, reduce the risk of further injuries.
- Over the counter pain relievers – as a short term solution.
- Use supportive devices (protection) – like splints, canes, crutches, and so on.
- Use ice or heat for knee pain relief.
One of the frequent questions asked is when to use heat or ice? Ice vs heat, which is better?
Well, ice and heat may both help relieve pain, but they work differently depending on the circumstance.
An ice pack for your knee may help reduce pain quickly, and it may also slow down the progress of inflammation. Therefore, ice is a better option in acute pain, during exacerbations, or when there is a lot of local swelling (tenderness and warmth in the joint). One can apply an ice pack 4-5 times a day for 15-20 minutes.
Applying heat works better with chronic pain. It improves local blood flow, relaxes nearby muscles, reduces stress on tendons. Heat may also help to minimize consolidated inflammation.
However, never apply heat when the joint is feeling warm, or there is too much tenderness, as applying heat may only worsen the inflammation.
So, remember to apply an ice pack to reduce acute pain and inflammation. Use heat to reduce muscular spasm, improve movements, promote healing, and overcome chronic inflammation.