Knee osteoarthritis (or OA) can lead to pain, swelling, and stiffness in the knee that ranges from mild to severe. To help alleviate these symptoms, your orthopedic physician may recommend several treatment paths.
In this article, we describe 5 different treatment paths for knee OA most commonly prescribed by orthopedic physicians.
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis—also known as wear-and-tear arthritis—is one of the most common musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions, affecting more than 30 million adults in the U.S. Along with the hands, hips, and spine, osteoarthritis most often affects the knees. In fact, knee osteoarthritis is one of the leading causes of disability for Americans.
Osteoarthritis of the knee typically progresses with age. Each year, the occurrence of knee OA is highest among people ages 55 to 64 years old.
Fortunately, there are several treatments that can lessen symptoms and help patients return to previous levels of mobility. Orthopedic physicians will typically begin with conservative treatment methods before progressing to surgical intervention.
5 treatment paths for knee OA
Orthotic insoles, or shoe inserts, are an accepted front-line treatment for knee OA. One study found that lateral wedge insoles were a simple, inexpensive way to decrease pain and improve the quality of life of patients with medial knee compartment OA. Another study found that medial-wedge insoles effectively reduced pain and improved function of valgus knee OA.
Orthotics can be purchased online or prescribed by an orthopedic physician. Prescription orthotics are custom molded to your feet based on evaluation and diagnosis of your condition.
Orthopedic physicians commonly administer therapeutic injections as a conservative treatment for knee OA. Corticosteroid, platelet-rich plasma, and hyaluronic injections are some of the most frequently prescribed. Notably, a 2021 study found that corticosteroid injections were the most effective for pain relief.
These injections are administered by a physician on a one-time, weekly, or monthly basis. They can alleviate symptoms within 24-48 hours and last for up to 6 months.
Therapeutic exercises are a highly effective treatment for OA of the knee. In fact, they are proven equally as effective as pain management and lead to improved physical functioning. As such, exercise is the most common intervention for knee OA with a prescription rate of 31% according to a study in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage.
Physical therapy consists of both education and exercise. The exercises are administered under the supervision of a physical therapist to establish good habits.
When conservative treatment options are unsuccessful, surgery may be required. While this option is typically a “last resort” intervention, it is a highly effective treatment path. Surgeries can range from repair to total replacement of the knee joint.
Surgery often significantly improves patients’ range of motion and pain levels and lasts longer than other treatment options. An analysis in Lancet found that 82% of total knee replacements lasted 25 years or longer.
Additional weight puts more pressure on your knees, leading to chronic pain and OA. Weight loss by itself or coupled with other treatment paths can greatly improve symptoms of knee OA. To illustrate, each pound of extra weight creates an additional 4 to 5 pounds of pressure on the knee. By losing as little as 10 pounds, you can reduce the pressure load on your knee by 40-50 pounds.
Weight loss can even mitigate surgery. example, individuals who fall into the “obese” category are 20 times more likely to require a total knee replacement than non-obese individuals.
For patients undergoing joint replacement surgery, weight loss in advance of the procedure can speed up recovery and boost outcomes. Losing weight can also help prevent infection and other post-surgery complications.
Treatment paths for knee OA are individualized to the patient depending on a variety of factors. In many cases, the above 5 approaches are some of the most effective and therefore most commonly prescribed. While orthopedic physicians will work closely with their patients to determine the best path for them, many recognize that all of their overweight and/or obese patients with knee OA can benefit from weight loss. Not only can weight loss improve surgery outcomes, but it can also increase the effectiveness of other treatment paths as well.
About Prescribe FIT
Prescribe FIT is the leader in orthopedic weight loss. Our full-service remote monitoring and virtual lifestyle health solution extends orthopedic care beyond the office to improve patients’ MSK health with simple changes to nutrition, physical activity, and lifestyle.