5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Knee Osteoarthritis

5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Knee Osteoarthritis

Learn all you can about knee osteoarthritis to manage pain and improve your quality of life.

If you have osteoarthritis of the knee, you are not alone. Estimates vary, but it affects at least 27 million Americans and is one of the leading causes of disability in older adults. Roughly one-half of adults will experience symptoms of knee osteoarthritis at some point in their lives.

But you can take charge of your joint health by learning all you can about the condition. Here are a few key questions to ask your doctor.

How do you know it’s osteoarthritis, and not something else?
Osteoarthritis is a significant cause of knee pain. But other inflammatory conditions and injuries can also cause pain, as can other types of arthritis (of which there are more than 100). Treatment varies depending on the cause, so getting an accurate diagnosis is essential.

Your physician will conduct a full evaluation of your symptoms and health history and will determine the range of motion in your knee joint. He or she may also order an x-ray, ultrasound or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan to look inside the joint. Your doctor may also withdraw fluid from the joint to see if it shows signs of deterioration.

Your primary care doctor may give you a diagnosis or refer you to a rheumatologist, a specialist in diseases such as arthritis.

What causes osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is more than just wear and tear on the joint. It’s a complex disease with multiple risk factors. One of these is age. The older you are, the more likely you are to develop osteoarthritis. The median age at diagnosis is 55, and approximately 13 percent of women and 10 percent of men 60 and older have symptoms of knee osteoarthritis.

Being obese and suffering a traumatic knee injury are two of the other most significant risk factors. The increasing incidence of obesity, especially in people 40 to 60 years old, is believed to be driving the increase in knee osteoarthritis. The higher your body mass index, the more likely you are to develop osteoarthritis. Genetics also plays a role. At least 30 percent of your risk for osteoarthritis is determined by your genes.

Can my osteoarthritis be cured?
Unfortunately, no. Joint damage from osteoarthritis cannot be reversed. Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, although the rate of progression varies from person to person. The best treatment plan for knee osteoarthritis consists of managing pain and symptoms and slowing the progression of the disease. Most patients with knee osteoarthritis employ a combination of medications and non-pharmaceutical treatments, including exercise, physical therapy and weight loss.

Will I need surgery?
It depends. More than 600,000 people in the United States undergo knee replacement surgery every year. The procedure can help patients who have severe knee osteoarthritis that limits their day-to-day activity and whose symptoms persist despite other therapies. More than 90 percent of those patients who do undergo knee replacement surgery find it relieves pain and allows them to be active again. Ask your doctor if you are a candidate for knee replacement surgery.

What can I do to manage my symptoms?
The two most important things you can do are lose weight and move. Carrying extra weight puts a lot of pressure on the knee joint and losing even a small amount of weight can make a big difference. In fact, according to the Arthritis Foundation, losing one pound of body weight will take four pounds of pressure off your knee.

Exercise, including aerobic and strengthening exercises, is a critical component of any osteoarthritis management program. Walking, water exercises and Tai Chi are all good low-impact options. Your doctor or a qualified physical education professional can help you develop a safe and effective exercise program.

Medically reviewed in July 2018.

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