OA of the Knee: Are You at Risk?
Published July 23, 2012
You stand up from a chair and an agonizing jolt shoots through your knee. You might be experiencing the pain of osteoarthritis (OA) in your knee – a condition where the cushioning cartilage wears down, leaving the ends of your bone to rub against one another. A knee with OA is often swollen, stiff, and painful.
OA of the knee is more common as you get older. In fact, it's one of the biggest causes of disability among older adults.
Some causes of OA are beyond your control, but other factors you can change, possibly reducing your risk of getting the disease.
Risks for OA of the Knee
Sometimes you're either born at greater risk for OA of the knee, or you get it because of factors you can't control, including:
- Family history: Genes that run in your family may make you more likely to get OA of the knee. If your mother or father had the condition, there's a chance you may have it too. Just because OA runs in your family, though, doesn't mean you're destined to get it. Other factors are also involved in determining your risk.
- Age: As you get older, the cartilage in your joints naturally starts to deteriorate.
- Gender: When it comes to OA, men and women were not created equally. Women are at greater risk for the disease, especially after age 50.
- Disease: Having conditions such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, thyroid disease, Paget's disease, or Wilson disease increase your risk of OA.
- Anatomical problems: Some people are born with physical problems, such as legs of unequal length or poorly formed joints, which makes OA of the knee more likely.
Here are a few risks for OA of the knee that you do have some control over:
- Weight: The heavier you are, the more pressure you put on your joints.
- Injury: Repeatedly running, twisting, and jumping on the joints while playing tennis, soccer, football, or other running sports can damage the knee enough to cause OA. The condition can also be caused by a single injury, such as a broken bone.
- Repetitive stress: If you work in a job where you're always kneeling, squatting, or lifting heavy boxes you could be putting yourself at risk for OA of the knee. At-risk professions include shipyard workers, carpet layers, assembly line workers, and other manual labor jobs.
How to Avoid the Pain of OA
Here are a few tips for reducing your OA risk, and relieving pain when you do have the condition:
Shedding just a few pounds can relieve some of the pressure on your knee joints. Studies have found that for every 11 pounds an overweight woman loses, her risk for OA of the knee drops by more than 50 percent.
Take it easy on sore joints
Don't try to do too much when your knees hurt. Avoid activities such as jumping, running, squatting, and kneeling, and be careful about lifting heavy objects. Rest for a few hours when your knees begin throbbing.
Working out serves two purposes for OA: it helps you lose weight, and it strengthens the muscles that support your knees. Non-impact exercises like swimming, rollerblading, walking, and bicycling are easier on damaged joints than jogging and other high-impact exercises.
Use heat or cold
You can try placing heat or cold on your knee to relieve joint pain. Apply a heating pad (set on warm - not hot) for 20 minutes at a time, a few times a day. Or, if it feels better, use a cold pack with a towel between your knee and the cold pack to protect your skin.
Find the right treatment
Once you've been diagnosed with OA, discuss possible treatment options with your doctor. These might include medications, physical therapy, or surgery (such as a knee replacement), as well as acupuncture and other alternative therapies.
Take pain medications
Talk to your doctor about pain medications that can ease your discomfort, such as NSAIDs (ibuprofen), aspirin, or pain relievers that you rub on your skin.
Use an assistive device
A cane or walker can take some of the weight off your sore knee joints.