Your Health

Out of joint: What you should know about knee pain

If you are one of the 23.7 million Americans experiencing knee pain that affects your ability to walk comfortably, turn or bend, there are treatments that can help you postpone knee or hip replacement surgery while you continue to exercise and enjoy an active life.

The most common cause of knee pain disabilities in the U.S. is arthritis. Statistics from Tufts Medical Center reveal that at least 31 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis, a condition in which joint cartilage wears out and breaks down, causing the rubbing of bone against bone. Another 5 million Americans, mostly women, suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.

Other causes of knee or other joint pain include autoimmune disease, which causes chronic inflammation, and post-traumatic arthritis, which occurs after an injury to a joint where the bone and cartilage do not heal correctly.

When a patient experiences the pain of one of these three types of arthritis, physicians will start treatment using nonsurgical pain-relieving solutions.

Available treatments

Did you know that for each pound you lose, you reduce four pounds of pressure on your knees and hips? Other nonsurgical treatment options – physical therapy, hot/cold therapy, specific exercise programs, the use of walking aids – could postpone surgical procedures.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like aspirin, relieve inflammation, but over time they can cause chemical changes in muscle tissue that could result in damage to the kidneys. Cortisone injections and joint fluid therapies are commonly used in the short term for athletes, in conjunction with other therapies, but the effectiveness of injections can diminish. They can cause other types of symptoms and relieve pain only temporarily.

A study published in revealed that using steroid injections (corticosteroids) for acute knee inflammation could reduce symptoms. Continued injections over two years could reduce healthy knee cartilage and speed up development of joint arthritis.

Surgical solutions

Over time, pain may become unmanageable. A surgical procedure that involves a new implant surface, made of plastic and metal, bonded to the damaged knee bone is a long-term solution. One surgery, a partial knee replacement, addresses one or two components of the knee. Total knee replacement repairs all three components.

Many people who experience knee pain benefit from physical therapy because increased blood flow to the injured area heals cartilage; certain exercises strengthen and extend muscles connected to the knee, reducing inflammation, relieving pain and enabling faster healing. Properly treating your knee pain can eliminate the need for surgery.

Kim Gladfelter is owner, physical therapist and Pilates instructor at PhysioFit Physical Therapy and Wellness, 1000 Fremont Ave., Los Altos. For more information, call 887-6046 or visit

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