How Physiotherapy Can Help You with Your Osteoarthritic Knee
The human body grows until 25-30 years of age, and slowly starts to experience changes in its anatomical structures and physiological functions. This wear and tear are negligible until the age of 45 years. After that, we notice these changes in the form of different disorders. One of such conditions is osteoarthritis; a degenerative joint disease that affects large joints of the body causing them to ache, affecting the normal movement.
Knee Osteoarthritis is the most diagnosed arthritis, that starts either post-traumatically or idiopathically. Old age, obesity, and previous trauma are some of the factors that make you more prone to developing this condition.
But HOW will you know if you really have arthritis?
Well, the first symptoms of arthritis are pain and stiffness, that get worse after prolonged activity, and relieved by rest. However, long periods of inactivity exacerbate joint stiffness, causing pain on movement. Gradually, the symptoms get worse as the inflammation increases, causing swelling in the joints, making it more difficult to move. Immediate consultation is required if you notice redness, warmth, swelling around the affected joint.
Nonetheless, a proper diagnosis is made through careful examination and evaluation by an Orthopedic Specialist or a Physical Therapist. Diagnostic and screening tests such as X-rays, Blood test, and MRI (Gold Standard) are done to confirm Osteoarthritis and rule out other maladies. These radiological findings also show the extent of the damage.
So WHAT is the cure?
Although highly prevalent, there is no known cure to the disease. Symptomatic treatment is done through conventional medicine, but it does not improve the condition of the joint, which only gets worse with time. The only way to improve the symptoms, as well as joint condition, is through physical therapy.
It seems unlikely, given that movement worsens the symptoms, that exercise will help it in any way. However, the wear and tear in joints are exaggerated by unequal forces acting on the joint. In simple words, muscle imbalance i.e. tightness or weakness of either group of muscles imposes load on the joint. An appropriate exercise regime combined with certain therapeutic techniques help counter the imbalance and restore normal dynamics.
Following are the techniques used to treat Knee Osteoarthritis through Physical Therapy:
Hamstring and Calf muscles are more prone to tightening and hence, need to be stretched.
Anterior leg musculature is weakness prone, hence exercises such as straight leg raises and resisted dorsiflexion must be performed to enhance strength without overloading the joint. Cycling is highly recommended for knee osteoarthritis. It effectively loads all muscle groups without loading the knee joint.
·Joint Mobilization Techniques
Only to be performed by trained individuals, mobilization is the most important part of a physical therapy treatment regime. It helps to unload the joint cancelling all forces acting on the joint surfaces.
To understand this concept, you need to know what happens inside an arthritic joint. In every joint, there is a smooth lining around the bones end that ensures smooth movement between the two bones. So, the two ends do not actually touch. Arthritis is mainly the breakdown of the protective layer, leaving the bony ends exposed and there is not much space to move. The friction from the movement roughens the bone ends and it becomes chipped.
Mobilizing the joint means stretching apart the bones, and relieving stress.
It is evident from research that joint mobilization along with targeted manual therapy and exercise is an effective treatment for knee osteoarthritis.
A knee brace can be worn during activities for additional support around the knee.
If the damage is beyond repair, the last resort is surgical replacement of some or all components of the knee joint with prosthetic knee. It relieves pain and disability. Post-operative rehabilitation helps you strengthen the muscles around your knee, taking you through walking re-education, how to move around with an artificial knee joint.