Osteoarthritis of the knee (knee OA) is the inflammation and wearing away of the cartilage on the bones that form the knee joint & it is usually diagnosed by an X-Ray. About 14M people in the US have painful knee OA, and it is far more common as we age because it is a progressive disease caused by inflammation and degeneration of the knee joint that worsens over time. Knee OA often progresses quicker with increased age, body mass index (BMI), bone structure, genetics, muscular strength, and activity level. Depending on the stage and its impact on your quality of life, knee OA can be managed with physical therapy. Those with this condition may report pain and stiffness which often lead to muscle weakness and functional changes. Sych changes may include difficulty standing from a chair, walking, or even standing for a prolonged period of time.
Symptoms of knee OA may include:
- Worsening pain during or following activity (walking, stairs)
- Pain or stiffness after prolonged sitting
- A feeling of “popping,” “cracking,” or “grinding” with movement
- Swelling following activity
- Tenderness to touch along the knee joint
Typically, these symptoms do not occur suddenly or all at once, but instead develop gradually over time. If you have had worsening knee pain for several months that is not responding to rest or a change in activity, Esther Frasso, PT can help! Esther will design an individualized treatment program specific to the exact nature of your condition and your goals. Your treatment program may include exercises to improve flexibility, strength, balance, endurance, functional movement as well as pain relief modalities. Muscle strengthening is especially important because it balances the amount of force on the knee joint; research has repeatedly shown that those with knee OA who are consistent with a prescribed exercise program (targeting hips/gluteals) report less pain, improved function & enhanced quality of life.
Real Life Story
Luke is a 50-year-old businessman who has just moved his family to the city so he can start a new job. For the last 2 months, Luke has been working hard to fix up his family’s new home, carrying heavy boxes and moving furniture up and down stairs. He also has worked late into the night installing appliances.
After starting his new job last week, sitting through numerous orientation sessions and meetings, Luke notices that his right knee is really hurting. He is used to occasional knee discomfort, but this is the worst it has felt in a long time. During his junior year at college, Luke suffered a significant knee injury while playing basketball, which required surgery.
These days, Luke coaches his son’s Little League team, exercises several times each week, and plays pickup basketball with his friends. But occasionally, particularly after long road trips, his knee pain flares up, and he has to resort to medication, icing, and rest. These bouts are starting to occur more regularly. Luke decides it's time to seek a consultation with a physical therapist.
During Luke’s first appointment, his physical therapist asks him questions regarding his medical history, prior injuries, current symptoms and complaints, and goals for physical therapy. She examines his knee motion, strength, balance, and walking mechanics. She also uses special tests and measures to determine the nature of Luke’s pain, ruling out any other possible conditions.
Based on her findings, Luke's physical therapist determines that his current knee pain is a result of posttraumatic osteoarthritis. She diagnoses knee OA. She explains that his history of significant knee injury in college put him at risk of developing knee OA at a young age. The recent increased demand on his knee joint during his move is likely responsible for the current flare-up of pain and swelling.
Over the next 6 weeks, Luke works with his physical therapist to decrease his joint pain and improve his knee motion and full-body flexibility. She uses manual therapy techniques to improve the mobility of his knee joint. She prescribes a progressive exercise program to strengthen the muscles of his hip, knee, and core. She tailors this program so that Luke can complete it daily, based on the equipment available at his office gym facility.
Six weeks later, Luke is able to climb and descend stairs, squat, and jog without pain. He can sit through a full day of meetings without noticing stiffness or swelling in his knee. On his last day of therapy, Luke’s physical therapist provides him with a detailed home-exercise program and suggestions for maintaining the improvements he has made. With the summer approaching, he's preparing to coach his son's baseball tournaments—and take his family to the beach!
This story was based on a real-life case. Your case may be different. Your physical therapist will tailor a treatment program to your specific case.