In my last column, I wrote about the importance of addressing the early signs of knee osteoarthritis and getting a diagnosis. Early diagnosis is helpful to make sure you receive appropriate treatment right away. It can also ensure the health of the joint is optimized despite the presence of osteoarthritis.
When most clients come to me for physiotherapy with symptoms of knee osteoarthritis, their concerns are focused on how the pain and stiffness of the joint are interfering with their ability to do the activities they want to do. The goal of any treatment program for knee osteoarthritis should be to minimize physical limitations and allow for a healthy level of physical activity.
To achieve this goal, the pain and mobility issues in the joint must be managed. It is also important to establish which activities are acceptable for the joint and in what volume. A comprehensive approach to managing knee osteoarthritis will include both education and exercise, with the ultimate goal of allowing you to manage your symptoms successfully independently.
Gaining a deeper understanding of what is changing in your knee with osteoarthritis can help take the mystery out of what is happening. This can help you understand why your symptoms fluctuate and can empower you to do more of the things you love more confidently, despite having discomfort.
By learning how to “listen” to your knee, you can determine which physical activities are right for you, which additional supports are helpful and how to pace yourself according to what your knee can reasonably handle.
Maintaining strength in the core and leg muscles is vital to supporting a knee with osteoarthritis. Leg muscle weakness can occur as a direct result of the pain in a knee with osteoarthritis.
Unfortunately, this muscle weakness often leads to faulty positioning (alignment) of the leg that causes increased pressure on the sensitive parts of the joint, therefore worsening the symptoms and contributing to the progression of the disease in the joint.
One of the challenges with knee osteoarthritis is that using weight-bearing (standing) exercises is critical to maximizing the health of the remaining cartilage in the knee and improving comfort. However, weight-bearing activity is often, at least initially, painful.
Appropriate exercise selection, instruction and supervision is critical to ensuring you exercise safely, while at a sufficient intensity to strengthen the muscles and improve alignment. This type of exercise is commonly referred to as neuromuscular strengthening and can be taught by a physiotherapist.
An exercise and education treatment program for knee osteoarthritis can be done individually or in a group setting. There are a number of programs available in the community. At Zoomers, we have embraced the GLA:D TM (Good Life with osteo Arthritis, from Denmark) Program since 2018. It is an exercise and education program specifically designed for people with hip and/or knee osteoarthritis.
No matter what intervention you choose, remember the ultimate goal is to maintain a healthy, physically active lifestyle.