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What is Knee Osteoarthritis?

The knee joint is cushioned and stabilized with the help of soft tissue called cartilage. Knee osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage tissue deteriorates due to aging, a direct injury, or excessive strain on the joint. A person with knee osteoarthritis usually experiences some degree of pain and a restricted range of motion, which can limit his or her ability to enjoy daily activities. Osteoarthritis symptoms tend to worsen over time, so it is important to speak with a doctor at the first signs of joint problems. Doctors can suggest medication, physical therapy, or surgery to help patients maintain strong knee joints.

Knee cartilage allows the upper and lower leg bones that meet at the joint to gently slide against one another. When the cartilage is damaged because of knee osteoarthritis, the bones are subject to excessive rubbing and friction. Osteoarthritis typically leads to pain during and after activity, swelling, and a loss of flexibility. It is common for the joint to feel stiff, especially in the mornings or during rainy weather. Symptoms tend to worsen over time as cartilage continues to deteriorate.

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The most common cause of knee osteoarthritis is aging. As a person gets older, cartilage tissue naturally begins to break down. The onset of osteoarthritis can vary from person to person, but most people will experience some degree of joint problems by the age of 70. Other possible causes include injuries to the knee joint and congenital bone disorders. Obese people are at risk of developing osteoarthritis symptoms because of the excess pressure placed on their knees when walking and standing. Regardless of the cause, individuals can usually ease their pain by making healthy lifestyle choices and following the recommendations of doctors.

Physicians diagnose knee osteoarthritis by physically examining the joint and taking x-rays. After being diagnosed, many patients are instructed to take over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce pain and swelling. A more nutritious diet and regular exercise are usually suggested to promote better bone and metabolic health. Doctors can also recommend that patients wear knee braces to provide stability and take pressure off of the joint during activity. Some people benefit from physical therapy sessions with licensed trainers to strengthen their joints and slow the onset of osteoarthritis.

A doctor may recommend surgery in the case of severe joint pain and damage. A common procedure known as arthroscopic surgery involves making a small incision in the knee, inserting a tiny robotic camera and tools, and carefully cutting away damaged tissue. More invasive procedures are needed when the bones themselves have been worn down. Surgeons can perform a partial or full joint replacement, called an arthroplasty, in which bones and tendons are fitted to a metal or plastic artificial knee joint. Recovery time following surgery can vary, but most people who engage in regular physical therapy and make positive lifestyle choices can usually regain use of their knees in less than a year.

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