Your Health

Bone-on-bone arthritis: How to avoid knee replacement surgery

Courtesy of Physiofit
An increasing number of people face living with arthritis in their knees, but in some cases, tightness in parts of the body close to the knee can be treated through physical therapy to ease the pain and avoid knee replacement surgery.

“I don’t want to do anything crazy like run a marathon; I just want to live my normal life without this constant knee pain.”

– Diane, 60, Los Altos

Diane had been struggling with knee pain for the past few years, after her doctors had done a scope on her meniscus that never fully recovered.

She dealt with the pain by just pushing through, but slowly the pain got worse. It started to worry her when she could barely get out of a chair without sharp pain and stiffness that would take at least 15-20 steps just to loosen up.

Struggling to get up and down the stairs was painful, never mind going outside and doing some gardening. She was diagnosed with mild arthritis in both knees, and was told, “You’ll probably need a knee replacement in five years unless you start losing some weight.” However, Diane couldn’t exercise because of the pain in her knees.

The amount of people with knee arthritis is rising and, with the endless options out there, it can be hard to know what is effective at treating your knees.

Knee braces, medications, injections and surgery not only run the risk of not working and wasting a lot of money, but they also run the risk of making the situation worse.

Alternative solution

“I saw the degeneration on the X-rays – I’m bone-on-bone. How could I possibly get out of pain without surgery?”

Diane had no idea there was an alternative solution to her problem.

She couldn’t possibly imagine a world where her arthritis wasn’t causing her pain, because that was all she was ever told. She had tried physical therapy, acupuncture and injections, none of which helped beyond temporary relief. She got to a point where she had accepted the fact that she was doomed for surgery.

However, we were able to turn it all around for Diane by addressing the root cause of her problem.

Her knee joints were creating friction by rubbing on each other. There are millions of people walking around each day who have arthritis in their knees but no pain. They have the proper strength, and mechanics in their legs, feet, hips and ankles that allow them to keep pressure off of the arthritic area, and the inflammation that causes pain. The process of arthritis cannot be reversed. But with the proper support structure, the pain and inflammation coming from knee arthritis can be completely eliminated.

This can vary, but for Diane, it involved addressing:

• A stuck kneecap. Because of chronic inflammation, her knees became very stiff, as her body was constantly creating scar tissue when her knee would get swollen. This made the muscles in her knees lose function because her kneecap was stuck.

• Stiffness in her ankles from old injuries. We found out Diane had very stiff ankles from having to wear a walking boot for eight weeks following a bout of plantar fasciitis that was never fully addressed.

• Tightness in her hips. Diane had developed hip tightness from years of working as a secretary.

Everything in the body is truly connected, and oftentimes tightness in parts of the body close to the knee (such as the hip and ankle) has a direct effect on the knee itself.

Diane had no idea how much all of her other problems were making her knees compensate. When we addressed the muscle tightness in her hips, released the scar tissue in her kneecaps and unlocked her tight calves and stiff ankles, not only did she quickly start to notice her knee pain was significantly less, but it also was easier for her to get out of a chair. As the pain started to lessen in her knees, she slowly gained more confidence and mobility as she walked.

“I was able to do two straight hours of gardening, and I didn’t need to take a single Advil,” Diane said.

Are you living with – or worried about someone with – knee arthritis and could be facing a potentially risky knee replacement surgery? If you would like to know if your knee pain could be muscular, a thorough physical therapy examination can help. Not all physical therapy clinics are equal, so make sure you go to one with adequate time with a physical therapist skilled in doing a thorough evaluation.

Kim Gladfelter is owner, physical therapist and Pilates instructor at PhysioFit Physical Therapy and Wellness, 1000 Fremont Ave., Suite 108, Los Altos. For more information, call 887-6046 or visit

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