When it comes to joint arthritis diseases, osteoarthritis is the most commonly diagnosed, and while it can also affect the hands, hips, and spine, the knees are the number one joints most afflicted. Incidence of knee osteoarthritis is also on the rise; the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 1 in 2 people will likely develop symptoms of the condition in their lifetimes, leading to significant health, mobility, and financial impacts.
How is knee osteoarthritis diagnosed, what are the four stages of the disorder, and how can you find knee pain relief at each?
Diagnosing Knee Osteoarthritis
Knee osteoarthritis typically has a gradual onset, and is known as the “wear and tear” arthritis, which results when the natural cushioning, or the cartilage, between the bones wears away. A physician will collect information about your symptoms, and diagnostics may include:
- An X-ray, which could show bone or cartilage damage or bone spurs
- An MRI, if the x-ray doesn’t provide definitive information about the source of pain
- A blood test, to rule out conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis
Once knee osteoarthritis is diagnosed, what are the stages and what steps can you take to improve and find knee pain relief?
The 4 Stages of Knee Osteoarthritis
If your knees are normal and healthy, they’re assigned a ‘0’, and show no signs of osteoarthritis or joint dysfunction. If you’re at this point, it’s very important to maintain a healthy lifestyle to keep your knees pain free.
A diagnosis of stage 1 knee osteoarthritis shows minor bone spur growth where the bones meet in the joint. At this point, there may not be much discomfort or pain, and any wear on the soft tissues is minimal. If you have any predisposition to arthritic conditions, it’s important to take a proactive approach here to maintain healthy knees.
Stage 2 osteoarthritis of the knee is considered a “mild” stage of the condition:
- Greater bone spur growth shown on x-rays, but cartilage is still a healthy size
- Spacing between the bones is still normal, with no bone scraping or rubbing
- Joint fluid is still sufficient for motion
- Increased pain, stiffness, or tenderness
Treatments at this stage will include those that can help slow the progression of the condition:
- Maintain a healthy weight: even losing 10 lbs. can significantly reduce strain on the knee joint and help provide knee pain relief, according to Dr. Stephen Messier, PhD, in a Wake Forest University Study.
- Exercise can help strengthen the muscles above and below the joints, which decreases the risk of further injury by increasing stability.
- Rest when needed: Consider using the RICE technique to reduce inflammation after overuse.
When your symptoms become more obvious, a “moderate” level of stage 3 knee osteoarthritis is diagnosed:
- The cartilage between bones shows obvious damage
- Space between the bones narrows
- Frequent pain during activities like walking, running, kneeling, bending
- Stiffness and swelling
Treatments at this stage need to be a more focused to provide knee pain relief:
- Joint injections that change the body’s response to pain or offer relief from inflammation
- Bracing the joint for increased stability
- Chiropractic care to make sure the body is aligned, preventing uneven wear on the joints
- Physiotherapy to increase mobility, reduce pain, and improve strength
At this point, your knee osteoarthritis condition is considered “severe:”
- Regular experience of great pain and discomfort in any movement of the joint
- There is a drastic reduction in the space between the bones due to the cartilage being almost gone
- Joint fluid is dramatically reduced, so friction in the moving parts of the knee is increased, causing pain and inflammation
Treatment options for knee pain relief from severe osteoarthritis can include many non-surgical approaches, including pain management options like targeted injections, intense physiotherapy, bracing for support, and procedures like viscosupplementation.
Need Knee Pain Relief?
At Envista Medical, our caring, highly trained team of medical doctors, chiropractors, and other providers have the ultimate goal of helping you to live a pain-free life. Call us today to learn more about how we’ll work with you to develop a holistic plan using non-surgical, minimally invasive methods for treatment of your pain.