With colder weather on the way, you might start to experience achy knees and stiffer movements. In reality, you could be suffering from osteoarthritis in your knees, and the cold weather has nothing to do with it.
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis – along with rheumatoid arthritis – according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. It is a leading cause of knee pain in adults and can lead to knee replacement surgery if the condition worsens.
But there are many things you can do to keep the pain from reaching that level. Dr. Jana Upshaw of Winning Health, a nonoperative sports medicine clinic, recommends lifestyle changes that can keep patients out of surgery.
“One of the biggest things you can do early on is maintain weight,” she said. “One pound on your waist is equivalent to three to five pounds on your knees. A simple five-pound weight loss can mean the difference of 15 to 25 pounds off of your knees because they are weight-bearing joints.”
It’s also very important to stay active throughout your life. Regular physical activity can help you control your weight and avoid joint stiffness.
Some people think that exercise can damage joints – they have bought into the myth that movement can wear out your joints, so they avoid exercise. But Dr. Upshaw said that when it comes to your joints, it’s more of a “use it or lose it” approach.
“There’s nothing that we love more than seeing people out playing golf, playing pickleball, going out for walks, being active and doing the things they enjoy. We’re fortunate enough to live in a pretty moderate temperature that even despite the colder weather, people should be getting out and staying active. This helps keep their legs strong and their weight down – both of which are important for knee health,” he said.
Walking or playing sports are great ways to stay active throughout the year, but you can also work on exercises to build strength in your quadriceps – the muscle at the front of your thigh – and in your core to protect your knees.
Unfortunately, these preventive measures don’t cure osteoarthritis and pain can progress. In this case, clinics such as Winning Health can provide medications like corticosteroid injections to calm inflammation or viscosupplementation injections – “gel shots” – to decrease pain. The office also offers platelet-rich plasma injections, which have shown promising results in some patients.
How do you know when you should seek out medical care? Dr. Upshaw said the biggest sign that you need help from a doctor is when your knee pain is bad enough to limit your normal physical activities. An evaluation when you’re experiencing minor knee pain may help to start therapy and prevent the pain from progressing.
“When they’re starting to have pain that’s interfering with those functions, they should come see us because our primary goal is to get them back doing those things that they love to do,” Dr. Upshaw said.
Adults, especially seniors, are more likely to suffer from osteoarthritis than younger people, but, if you had some sort of trauma to your knees when you were younger, such as ACL or meniscus tears, you may be more at risk of having problems with osteoarthritis at a younger age. Genetics also plays a big factor.
Non-operative clinics such as Winning Health can refer you to a trusted orthopedic surgeon if your condition worsens to the point where surgery is required. When you start to feel stiffness in your joints, a medical professional will help you through every step of the process to get you back on your feet.
For more information on Winning Health, call 843-471-0375 or visit www.winninghealth.md.