More than 20 million people suffer from osteoarthritis in the United States alone. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and is a “wear-and-tear” type problem caused by the breakdown of cartilage cushioning the joint. It is usually associated with aging. Although it may occur in younger people who have put unusual strain on their joints, such as athletes, most sufferers are people 50 or over.
The knee is one of the areas most commonly affected by osteoarthritis, and one of the most painful due to the weight-bearing nature of the joint. Symptoms include:
- deep, aching pain in the joint, which gets worse with movement
- swelling of the joint
- stiffness when the joint hasn’t been moved in a while, such as after sitting or lying down for 15 minutes or more
- reduced range of motion
- bony knobs in the area of the joint
Since there is currently no way to re-grow cartilage, current treatment seeks primarily to relieve pain and, if possible, improve range of motion. Conventional medicine may use:
- NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or naproxen
- Celecoxib (Celebrex)
- Corticosteroid shots in the joint
- Joint replacement surgery in the most advanced cases
NSAIDs used long-term can cause gastrointestinal issues such as ulcers and bleeding, and may raise the risk of heart problems. Celebrex lists over 150 possible side effects, according to drugs.com. These side effects range from the common and fairly mild (cough, fever) to the less common and more severe (cold sores on the lips, nose, eyes, or genitals; hearing loss).
For those who want to reduce the pain of osteoarthritis of the knee but want to avoid drugs, there are several options.
Weight loss — excess weight puts more stress on the knee. Simply losing weight can reduce the pain of osteoarthritis.
Yoga and Tai Chi — the gentle exercise and stretches of Tai Chi or Yoga are quite safe when led by a trained instructor, and studies suggest they may be helpful in combating pain, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Supplements — the Mayo clinic also recommends avocado-soybean unsaponifiables, a supplement popular as a treatment in Europe.
Chiropractic — chiropractic pain may reduce knee pain for many sufferers.
Acupuncture — acupuncture has shown promise as a treatment for osteoarthritis of the knee, both to reduce pain and to improve range of motion. According to Columbia University’s Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, over half of patients will benefit from acupuncture for osteoarthritic knee pain.