Knee osteoarthritis can range in severity, so you may find yourself wondering if and when treatment is necessary. While your comfort levels and a consultation are the best indicators of that, our team at Phoenix Regenerative Medicine of Scottsdale, AZ, are happy to bring you some information to help you make the right call.
What Happens if Knee Osteoarthritis Is Left Untreated?
Symptoms May Worsen Over Time
Knee osteoarthritis can present differently for different patients. Some find that their symptoms come and go depending on the day. Others find their symptoms stay about the same for a couple of years.
Eventually, the symptoms of untreated osteoarthritis can begin to worsen. These symptoms may include:
- Worsening bone spurs
- A grating sensation when you bend your knee
- Difficulty with movement
- Pain throughout the knee
- Swelling around the knee
- Tender areas
Getting a Diagnosis
It’s always a good idea to get an official diagnosis. This is especially true if you’re not sure whether you’re dealing with the symptoms of arthritis, or a different underlying condition. Getting the right treatment starts with the right diagnosis.
Common Diagnostic Options
An X-ray or MRI scan can be used for this purpose. The X-ray can capture bone spurs as well as verify if the joints of your knee are closer together than they should be. This would indicate that you’ve lost cartilage and likely are suffering from osteoarthritis.
An MRI can be an excellent tool for cases that are proving a bit trickier to diagnose. The MRI scan can show the cartilage itself, which will help determine whether the cartilage is healthy or diseased. If osteoarthritis is ruled out, a joint fluid analysis or blood analysis can be useful to rule out infection. An infected knee can have some of the same symptoms as a knee with arthritis.
Why Can It Get Worse Over Time?
The primary problem with knee osteoarthritis is a lack of cartilage. When the cartilage of your knee starts to thin out, the joints in your knee lose vital cushioning. This can cause friction between the joints, leading to discomfort and lack of mobility. Over time, the cartilage can continue to deteriorate and the joints can become more and more irritated.
Bone spurs are another common problem with this condition. As the joints of your knee wear down, spurs can narrow the space between your joints even more, which can lead to stiffness and pain.
What Causes Osteoarthritis?
Wear and Tear
Primary osteoarthritis, or “wear and tear” osteoarthritis, is when the cartilage protecting your joints is lost over time due to the natural aging process. It’s very common to see this form of arthritis set in when the patient is about 60 years old.
How severe the onset of symptoms are can range drastically between patients. Some patients are genetically predisposed to developing severe “wear and tear” arthritis early on. Other patients, especially if they have maintained a healthy weight and lifestyle, may be able to delay symptoms for longer.
Secondary osteoarthritis is prematurely triggered by something like an injury to the joint, inflammation, obesity, or certain genetic factors. As with primary osteoarthritis, consistent, joint-gentle exercise can help strengthen the muscles around your knee and keep your joints protected and in alignment for as long as possible.
What Are My Treatment Options?
If you’re beginning to notice signs of knee osteoarthritis, physical therapy can be a great place to start your treatment program. Movement is a critical way to strengthen the muscles that keep your knee in place, as well as improve your range of motion. A physical therapist will be able to teach you safe ways to exercise your knee, and can develop a customized treatment plan for your needs and your lifestyle.
The result should be a joint that feels less stiff and more comfortable and functional. Manual therapy may also be used during this process. This involves the therapist carefully and specifically moving your joints to improve their mobility.
Occupational therapy can help you take the next step in applying what you’ve learned from physical therapy into your life at home. Occupational therapists can make recommendations about ways you can adjust your lifestyle to improve the health and comfort of your joints.
These recommendations can include certain daily exercises to promote strength without causing damage. They can also offer advice on how you can keep yourself comfortable during work, and different types of braces or compression garments you may want to try. By having a professional take an objective look at your lifestyle, you can receive priceless advice on how to realistically and feasibly manage your symptoms for daily life.
PRP injections are a form of regenerative therapy. Injections like this may help offer relief from your symptoms without having to go through surgery. It’s a minimally-invasive treatment that uses your body’s own regenerative abilities to benefit it. Due to its unique properties, PRP treatment can slow the deterioration of your cartilage and help repair damaged areas.
PRP is derived from your own blood sample, and processed to isolate the platelet-rich plasma found in your blood. Platelets are used by your body naturally during an injury response, so this injection is like sending concentrated reinforcements into a specific area. By injecting the treatment directly into the area of need, these reinforcements should jump right into action.
Viscosupplementation also works by supporting the body’s natural healing abilities. Instead of using platelets, this injection uses hyaluronic acid, a substance that can be found in the body.
A gel solution including hyaluronic acid can be delivered through an injection into the painful joint. The gel helps coat and soothe the area, providing relief, hydration, and improved mobility. If one of your primary symptoms is stiffness and a loss of mobility, this treatment may be an especially good option.
Pain Management Machines
Our team is also qualified to safely use a range of machines that can help ease painful joint conditions. These unique treatment options should only be used under a specialist’s educated guidance, which is why we’re proud to offer these services to our patients.
Each machine has different benefits and can offer different results. Meeting us for a consultation will help us match you with the right device.
Chattanooga OptiFlex®3 Knee CPM
Sometimes knee surgery is unavoidable. If you find yourself having to get knee surgery and want to speed up your recovery, our team can use this machine to help you.
The goal is to prevent the formation of scar tissue or stiffness. By keeping your knee flexible in a safe, controlled environment, you should be able to enjoy improved movement after receiving an ACL repair or knee replacement surgery.
This is a patient-friendly machine that can prevent stiffness by improving your range of motion. Other benefits the CPM device can offer include a reduction in swelling, chronic pain relief, and improved circulation.
Contrast therapy focuses on alternating between warm and cool temperatures. It can help manage and improve painful symptoms. This machine can use thermal therapy on specific areas to help relieve your discomfort. Surgical conditions or traumatic conditions may be especially good candidates for this treatment.
Thermo Electric Cooling
This is another device that uses a range of temperatures to provide pain relief and reduce swelling. This range of temperatures combined with compression can have excellent results.
One of the best benefits of this treatment is it’s a safe way to explore temperature therapy. Patients who try to treat their own joints at home with contrast therapy may put themselves at risk for burns or frostbite. In a controlled environment with trained professionals, we can help carry out treatment in a safe and effective manner.
How Do I Know if I’m a Good Candidate for These Treatments?
A consultation is the best way to determine which treatment is the right fit for you, as we’ll be able to go over your health history and your symptoms. This will give us the information we need to tell you the treatment we believe will offer you the most relief from knee osteoarthritis.
For instance, if you need immediate relief from severe pain, the treatment approach may be different than if you want to prevent the progression of mild, chronic pain. Regardless of your symptoms, our team is dedicated to finding you the best fit we can offer for your condition.
Our Team Can Help You Achieve Better Comfort Levels
We specialize in treatments that are as minimally-invasive as possible. We pride ourselves in helping our patients thrive and live their lives to the fullest. If you’re ready to learn more about how we can help you, reach out to us at Phoenix Regenerative Medicine in Scottsdale, AZ, today to set up your consultation.