Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is a disease caused by the breakdown and subsequent loss of cartilage in a joint. Cartilage is a tissue that acts as a cushion to reduce friction or rubbing, between the bones of a joint. Osteoarthritis affects over 20 million people in the USA with the majority of cases involving individuals over age 45.
Osteoarthritis (OA) commonly affects weight-bearing joints, such as the knee and hip. The knee is most commonly affected. 13.8 percent of Americans age 65-74 suffer from knee OA.
Knee OA can cause pain, swelling, stiffness, and limited range of motion. The loss of cartilage increases friction between the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone). This leads to pain, limited mobility in the joint, and distortion of the joint.
OA of the knee is primarily caused by repetitive loading and stress on the cartilage as it ages. Other causes of OA are obesity, surgery, trauma, and hormone disorders.
Physical therapy can assist in the treatment of OA. Treatment includes various techniques that address impairments. Manual therapy techniques are used to increase muscle flexibility and reduce joint stiffness. Modalities like electrical stimulation and ultrasound are used to reduce pain and control inflammation. Aquatic therapy and therapeutic exercise are used to develop muscle strength around the knee, improve muscle balance between the hamstrings and quadriceps, and improve range of motion. Strengthening the muscles around the knee helps reduce the load on the joint itself. Aquatic therapy provides a comfortable environment for strengthening because the buoyancy of the water reduces the load on the knee.
Goals of Treatment:
Manage symptoms/relieve pain
Improve functional mobility
Improve range of motion
Osteoarthritis is a progressive disorder. The cartilage will continue degenerate over time. Physical therapy will manage symptoms, slow down progressive joint degeneration, and improve a quality of life.
By Quiana P. Roberts, PT, DPT
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