Many older women complain of knee pain, which can be caused by a variety of factors including osteoarthritis. This condition affects 27 million plus American people so it is fairly common. Other potential causes include injuries to ligaments or cartilage, tendonitis, kneecap dislocation and bursitis. Other conditions that cause knee pain but are much less common are gout, Osgood-Schlatters and osteochondritis. (1)
Your knee is made up of two bones arranged in a “hinge” and linked by four ligaments. Your kneecap covers one side of the knee-joint to allow pain-free movement. A healthy knee-joint is surrounded by a protective fluid that keeps the joint slippery. Where the upper and lower leg bones meet at the knee, cartilage exists. It’s role is to protect the knee-joint and allow frictionless movement.
When any part of this well designed machine doesn’t function correctly, you get knee pain.
Weight and Arthritic Knee Pain
If you are even slightly overweight you can put extra load on your knee, which can lead to wearing down that causes arthritis of the knee. In recent research into walking, it has been found that your knees are impacted by around five times your weight in force. For example, for every extra pound of fat that you carry, a further five pounds of force has to be coped with by your knee when you are walking.
This relationship is not all bad. Lose 10 pounds and you will relieve 50 pounds of force from your knee joint when walking.
Risk factors for knee arthritis include being overweight, over 50 and having had a knee injury. This condition is thought to be passed from one generation to the next in families. (2).
Progression of Knee Arthritis
As arthritis gets worse, so too does the pain caused by the condition. But the deterioration is not linear and steady. Some people say that their arthritis gets worse when there is bad weather for example. And others say they have good days and bad days.
Signs that your knee arthritis is getting worse will be: increased pain during activity, losing range of movement,joint swelling and stiffness,tenderness of the knee when pressed, and deformation of the knee.(3,4)
Muscle Strength and Knee Pain
Researchers from the University of Iowa discovered that women with strong thigh and quadricep muscles were half as likely to get knee pain compared to women with weak muscles in this area. The findings were that although strong leg muscles could prent cartilage loss and therefore decrease the pain associated with arthritis of the knee, they did not stop arthritis from occurring.
In X-rays, 10% of women with strong muscles who said they felt no pain did in fact have arthritis. (5)
Knee Arthritis Treatments
Treatment of knee arthritis focuses on using the skills of many skilled people to treat the pain from many angles . Physical therapists are often employed to work on strengthening muscles and improving range of movement.
Doctors and pharmacists are involved to find the best medical pain interventions, and social services aid in obtaining community supports and help in the workplace.(6)
Other treatment options include:
- Use of a cane can be helpful at reducing pain, if it is used correctly. Any cane used should be adjusted to be the perfect height for the individual before use.
- Losing weight can have a large benefit for reducing the load on the knee joint
- Cortisone injections given every 2-3 months can help to reduce localised pain
- Wedged shoes can help to redistribute weight so as to take load off of the knee
(1) Medline Plus: Knee Pain
(2)Trends in Molecular Medicine: Recent Advances in the Genetic Investigation of Osteoarthritis
(3) NHS Choices: Osteoarthritis – Symptoms
(4) Johns Hopkins Medicine health Library: Osteoarthritis
(5) American College of Rheumatology: Women with Strong Thigh Muscles Protected from Symptomatic Knee Osteoarthritis
(6) Annal of Rheumatic Diseases: Aerobic Walking or Strengthening Exercise for Osteoarthritis of the Knee