What is the Arthritis?
Arthritis is a degenerative disease that breaks down
the cartilage in a joint, typically over the course
of many years. In almost every joint in your body, the
bones are covered by cartilage, which is a resilient
surface that allows smooth bending of the joint. The
joints of the knee, shoulder, hip, ankle, elbow, wrist,
spine, and hand are potentially at risk for arthritis.
When arthritis affects a small area of joint cartilage,
it becomes brittle and rough. The rough area irritates
the smooth tissue surrounding it, slowly spreading arthritis
through the joint. Eventually, pieces of cartilage break
off, leaving bone surfaces rubbing against other bones.
The bone surface deteriorates, possibly leading to the
deformity and destruction of the joint. The most common
form of arthritis is called osteoarthritis. The wear
and tear of sports and activities may put active people
at risk of osteoarthritis. It often afflicts joints
at the site of an injury. Other types of arthritis are
forms of systemic inflammatory diseases that are not
necessarily related to sports or activities. The most
common of these is rheumatoid arthritis, which is thought
to be a result of the body's immune system attacking
the body's tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic
disease that affects the entire body and can attack
joints that have not been previously injuried. The following
discussion deals with osteoarthritis in the knee
one of the most common long-term complications of sports
injuries in the knee that do not heal properly.
- overuse and underuse of your joints can contribute to
osteoarthritis. Overuse may excessively grind down knee
cartilage. Underuse may stiffen and weaken the muscles
that help absorb shock in your knee.
Osteoarthritis may begin after a specific traumatic
injury or repeated minor injuries to your knee. Overuse
and years of chronic stress on your knee may also cause
arthritic deterioration. Though physicians are not exactly
sure what causes osteoarthritis, many contributing factors
have been identified that put people at risk:
- the majority of people with arthritis are over the
age of 45. By age 60, most people have some signs of
mild osteoarthritis. However, athletes and active people
may be at risk of developing osteoarthritis at a younger
age because of the added stress that activities place
on their joints.
- extra pounds put added stress on your knees. Controlling
your weight can help relieve some of the excess strain
that may contribute to the development of osteoarthritis.
- some people who suffer osteoarthritis may have inherited
a propensity to develop the disease. Research has found
a genetic link to the development of osteoarthritis, particularly
in the hands.
body structure - joints that are not aligned properly
or not matched in size, length, or strength may cause
slight imbalances that put added stress on knees and deteriorate
Osteoarthritis generally continues to spread unless it
is treated. Because cartilage has no direct blood supply,
it usually cannot heal on its own. Damaged cartilage heals
faster and more completely in younger people. As a result,
they are less likely to need surgery. Active people over
age 40 are more likely to have osteoarthritis complicate
their healing process after an injury. At any age, arthritis
can lengthen the recovery time from an injury. For example,
after surgery to repair a torn meniscus (a crescent shaped
disc of cartilage on the top of the shinbone), it can
take up to six months to rehabilitate the injury if you
have arthritis, compared to three to four weeks without
arthritis. There are numerous non-surgical and surgical
techniques that can effectively treat arthritic pain.
The initial symptoms can be treated with rest, ice, light
exercise, and anti-inflammatory medication. As the disease
progresses, you may want to undergo an arthroscopic evaluation.
Depending on the amount of cartilage damage, surgery or
possibly a total joint replacement may be required. Most
athletes with mild arthritis usually return to some type
of activity after treatment.
There are usually three parts to an orthopedic
evaluation: medical history, physical examinations, and
tests your physician may order.
Your doctor will likely ask you when you noticed your
knee pain, how it has been feeling since the pain began,
and if your knee has been previously injured. Physicians
also typically ask about other conditions, such as diabetes
and allergies, and medications currently being taken.
You may also be asked about your physical and athletic
goals to help your doctor decide what treatment might
be best for you in achieving those goals. You should let
your doctor know about any family history of arthritis,
as well as about any medications you are taking.
A physician may begin to diagnose arthritis by
feeling around the painful knee, and testing ligament
and tendon strength by checking your knee's range of motion.
Bending and flexing the knee can help a physician determine
if there are any mechanical problems like locking or catching.
Should your physician require a closer look, these
tests may be conducted:
views of X-rays can usually provide good images of the
knee for diagnosing arthritis. X-rays are particularly
useful for assessing bone damage.
tests and fluid samples are often given to rule out other
diseases. Physicians may remove a sample of fluid from
your knee with a small needle to send to a lab for analysis.
Results are usually available within 48 hours.