Although knee arthritis is not curable, there are a variety of options for managing it and slowing down its progression. The main goal of the various treatment options is to reduce pain, improve function, and enhance mobility in the affected knee. Below, we explore the various treatment options for knee arthritis.
Lifestyle Modification and Physical Therapy
Lifestyle modifications and physical therapy are the first set of options for managing knee arthritis. They work best for treating and managing early signs of knee arthritis and can help to slow down the progress of the condition. Some key lifestyle modifications include incorporating regular exercise, weight loss, and healthy eating.
If lifestyle modification and physical therapy do not work, the second line of intervention is medical treatment. Doctors often recommend acetaminophen (Tylenol) as the initial medical treatment for osteoarthritis – it is safe and helps to relieve pain. Topical pain medications are also great options. They can be used independently or alongside acetaminophen.
The next line of medical treatment is NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Although they are more effective than acetaminophen for pain relief, they can cause gastrointestinal discomfort. For patients who do not respond to acetaminophen or NSAIDs, a doctor may recommend Tramadol and Duloxetine.
Viscosupplementation involves the injection of hyaluronic acid in the form of a gel-like fluid into the joint capsule. The hyaluronic acid substitutes the depleted synovial fluid, reducing friction, relieving pain, and enhancing joint mobility. Most patients benefit from a trial of viscosupplementation before surgery.
Surgery is the last resort for treating knee arthritis. It should only be considered for patients with irreversible joint damage or those who do not respond to six months of non-pharmacological medical treatment (or viscosupplementation).
There are different surgical procedures and your doctor will advise on the most suitable one for you. Options include arthroscopy, osteotomy cartilage grafting, and total or partial knee replacement.
- Arthroscopy is the least invasive surgical option for treating knee arthritis. The surgeon uses a small camera, known as an arthroscope, to visualize the inside of the knee joint and perform various procedures to repair the damaged tissues. Arthroscopy is best suited for arthritis treatment in cases where the damage is mild or localized.
- Osteotomy is a surgical procedure that involves cutting and reshaping the surrounding bones to relieve pressure from an affected joint. It is typically a treatment option for younger patients. It manages arthritis by shifting the weight-bearing load from the damaged area of the knee joint to the healthier area.
- Partial or total knee replacements are used for treating advanced knee arthritis. They involve removing the damaged or worn out parts of the knee joint and replacing them with artificial components. The difference between partial and total knee replacement is that the former is done for the entire knee joint, while the latter is done for part of the knee.
- Cartilage restoration involves transplanting healthy cartilage tissues from another part of the body to the affected joint area to help the damaged cartilage repair. It is suitable for younger patients with localized cartilage damage on the knee joint.
The first line of intervention against knee arthritis includes lifestyle modifications and physical therapy. The second line includes medication and viscosupplementation, and the last resort is surgery. Intervention may also include different treatment options. Your doctor will monitor your knee joint health over time and advise on the best treatment plan based on severity, age, overall health, and lifestyle.