The number of patients with knee arthritis is increasing dramatically as baby-boomers hit retirement age. This is due to the combined effects of active lifestyles, prior surgeries and people living longer.

The great news is this: if you are among those with chronic, increasing pain in the knee, there are a number of things you can do to take control of this frequently debilitating condition.

First, recognize that knee pain does not always mean arthritis. There are a variety of conditions that can lead to knee pain, and if pain is your problem, it's critical to get a competent evaluation of the condition. Many conditions exist that can affect knee function and they should be considered. Oftentimes, those conditions can and should be treated without surgery.

Secondly, the term arthritis includes a large number of conditions, and many of them are qualified for medical (non-operative) treatment. Let's look at the three basic types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common. It's a slow progressive degenerative disease in which the joint cartilage gradually wears away. Osteoarthritis most often affects middle-aged and older people. Rheumatoid arthritis, which can occur at any age, is an inflammatory type of arthritis that can destroy joint cartilage. The third type of arthritis is post-traumatic arthritis, which can develop after a knee injury and is similar to osteoarthritis. It may develop years after a fracture, ligament injury, or meniscus tear.

In treating these conditions, surgery is only indicated after conservative measures have been attempted. Non-operative treatments include activity modification (avoiding activities that aggravate the condition), physical therapy, injections, analgesics, braces, and other devices. The purpose of treatment is to reduce pain, increase function and generally reduce symptoms. Patient satisfaction is a fundamental goal in treating osteoarthritis of the knee. Depending on the severity of the condition and individual needs and goals, non-operative treatment may help for years.

Alternatively, in patients who develop inflammatory arthritis, medical management may be successful. Since inflammatory arthritis can involve multiple joints, systemic treatment is often appropriate.

For those who do require surgery, there are several surgical options to consider including arthroscopic surgery using fiber optic technology, osteotomy, total or partial knee replacement and cartilage grafting. Talk with your surgeon about which option is best for you.

The good news is new surgical techniques and improvements in prosthetic design and manufacturing indicate that recovery times are getting shorter and knee displacements are lasting longer.

Preventing Knee Pain

  • Maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI)
  • Exercise in moderation
  • Change exercise patterns gradually but do enough to maintain healthy muscles and cardiovascular function
  • Have acute injuries evaluated and valued by a trusted physician.