You wake up, the sun is shining, you climb out of bed and realize that your knee feels stiff. Again. After about ten minutes the stiffness eases and you head out for your morning walk. You notice that you can’t walk as fast as you could a couple months ago, and you have started shortening your walking distance due to the pain in your knee. Over the last month you have also noticed weakness in the muscles around the knee, reduced balance and grinding in the knee joint with movement.
Does any of that sound familiar? If so, you may have knee osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a common degenerative condition that often involves the spine, hip and knee joints. When the articular cartilage between two bones breaks down, the underlying bone becomes exposed, which can be painful. An x-ray of the knee can help confirm the diagnosis of osteoarthritis, although symptoms do not always correlate with the degree of degenerative change seen on x-ray.
While it is usually not possible to identify the exact cause of this condition, factors which increase the risk of osteoarthritis include increasing age, a family history of osteoarthritis, obesity, a previous injury that has caused trauma to the joint and a sport or occupation that has involved repetitive stress on the knee joint over an extended period of time.
There are a wide range of physiotherapy treatments that can be quite effective at alleviating pain, reducing stiffness and improving range of motion, flexibility, muscle strength, balance and overall function. These treatments may include education, manual therapy, exercise prescription, modalities and use of a gait aid, such as a cane.
Exercise can be quite beneficial to help reduce symptoms and improve function. Consider your physiotherapist your exercise expert who can put together a home exercise program for you which includes specific exercises for range of motion, stretching, strengthening, aerobic exercise and balance training. As well, swimming and/or cycling are often well tolerated and help improve aerobic conditioning, joint lubrication and can help with weight management.
Manual therapy involves different hands on techniques performed by your physiotherapist which can help reduce stiffness and improve range of motion. We will often measure knee range of motion before and after treatment and between physiotherapy visits to determine how effective the treatment is for you. Modalities, which include heat, cold, electrical stimulation, ultrasound and acupuncture may also help to reduce symptoms. Ultimately, our goal is to reduce pain and improve function and the treatment you choose will depend on your goals, the severity of your symptoms and your current level of function.