You don’t have to be a doctor to know that arthritis can make living a normal life difficult. Part of what makes the illness so debilitating is that it affects the joints that are vital to normal movement. And one of the joints that seem to be disproportionately affected is the knee. So why is it that arthritis in the knee is so common?
Well, to answer that question, we have to ask what the basic causes of arthritis are. Then we can figure out why arthritis in the knee is so ubiquitous among sufferers. And of course, we can find out what they can do about it.
What Causes Arthritis?
Arthritis is actually a surprisingly complicated disease. In fact, there are over one hundred different kinds of arthritis. Luckily, we can make things a bit less complicated by condensing those different types of arthritis into two categories: inflammatory and noninflammatory arthritis.
The most common type of inflammatory arthritis is Rheumatoid Arthritis, or RA. RA is an autoimmune condition. Basically, in a healthy immune system, your body produces cells called antibodies that attack and destroy dangerous bacteria and viruses. But when you have an autoimmune condition like RA, these antibodies begin attacking your joint, leading to inflammation. This inflammation gradually breaks down the protective lining of the joints, called the synovium.
The other type of arthritis, noninflammatory arthritis confusingly named because it also leads to inflammation, but for different reasons. The most common kind of noninflammatory arthritis is osteoarthritis. And the cause of this condition is the general wear and tear that our joints go through. That’s why we become more likely to suffer from this type of arthritis as we age and conditions like obesity increase our risk by putting more strain on the joints.
Why Does It Affect The Knee?
By far, the most common type of arthritis to affect the knees is osteoarthritis. And when you think about it, that makes sense. Especially when you consider that osteoarthritis is caused by wear on the joints.
After all, what joint in the body receives more stress than the knee? It carries the bulk of your body’s weight as you move around. As a result, the knee is often the first place where the lining of the joint starts to wear away.
The knee is also the point where two of the largest bones in the body meet, so once the lining of those joints is degraded all that pressure from the bones is being directed against the now unprotected joint. Obviously, this is what makes arthritis in the knee so common and so painful.
How Can You Treat It?
The best way to handle noninflammatory arthritis is with prevention. And prevention starts with diet and exercise. Being overweight is a huge risk factor when it comes to osteoarthritis. Every pound of excess weights puts an extra four pounds worth of pressure on the knee. So you can imagine what a difference maintaining a healthy weight can make when it comes to preventing and treating arthritis symptoms.
But there are also a number of medications you can take to help with symptoms. The key to treating arthritis is to reduce the inflammation that both causes pain and further damage to your joints. To do this, doctors often prescribe NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. This class of drugs contains things like aspirin and ibuprofen. They work by preventing your body from releasing a specific enzyme that contributes to inflammation.
In addition, your doctor might prescribe corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are a hormone that your body naturally produces in response to inflammation. But sometimes, your body can’t produce enough. Thus doctors often prescribe synthetic corticosteroids to help treat arthritis.
Finally, for cases of very severe arthritis, there are surgical options. The most common operation to treat arthritis is a joint replacement. Essentially, a joint replacement involves the surgeon placing an artificial plastic joint into the affected area. This replaces the damaged synovium and the smooth plastic gives the joint a surface to move against. With modern technology, these artificial joints can last up to twenty years. And while all surgery carries risk, most patients report a significant improvement.
But in most cases, you want to exhaust the non-surgical options first. And as always, keep in constant communication with your doctor. They’ll be able to help you find a treatment plan that works for you and help you monitor your joints to prevent further damage.
So, let us know: do you suffer from arthritis? What do you do to treat it? Tell us in the comments.