Today I am hoping to shed some light on this increasingly common source of joint pain. We may have experienced twinges of knee pain in the past after an aggressive hike or perhaps we are now in the throws of seeking answers to unrelenting knee pain.
Your doctor can quickly provide you with a “diagnosis” and perhaps offer as a solution in the form of an injection, a prescription for pain and anti-inflammatory medication or of course the most invasive of treatment options, surgery.
In some cases surgery is unavoidable and may feel like the only option.
These cases are more the exception than the rule.
Surgeries to repair, for example, an acutely torn ligament or meniscal tear may be both necessary and wise especially if the individual is young, active and would like to return to high level of function and sports.In this case a surgical repair or reconstruction will provide the best shot at maintaining a normal active lifestyle with the fewest limitations.
What is most alarming is the current trend increase in elective total knee joint replacement surgeries in the last 20 years. The average age for total joint replacements is decreasing, even while most joints only have a life span of only 15-20 years.
A study presented at the 2014 American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) meeting highlighted the rising numbers of knee replacement surgeries. When researchers reviewed hospital discharge data for more than 2 million people undergoing this procedure, they found the rate of knee replacements jumped 120 percent over a 10-year period!
The overall increase was steep, but it was even more pronounced in younger age groups. While the number of surgeries increased by 89 percent among those ages 65 to 84, they increased by 188 percent in 45- to 64-year-old patients!
Knee joint revision surgeries are also on the rise for this very same reason.
Studies have found that 85 percent of knees last 15- 20 years, and the AAOS estimates 10 percent of patients will need a revision at some point. The younger patients are when they undergo the first surgery and the longer they live afterward, the more likely they will be to need revision surgery.
Studies have shown The number of revision surgeries increased 133 percent during one study period, particularly among younger patients.
So the question I want to attempt to answer is Why is there such an increase in Knee Pain and Medical procedures to Manage it?
WHATS BEHIND THE INCREASE IN KNEE PAIN?
Although there are many potential causes, I will outline and discuss a few of the highlights:
1.MUSCLE IMBALANCES AND ALIGNMENT ISSUES:
This is a very common underlying factor in the etiology of knee pain that is often “overlooked” by orthopedic surgeons and can eventually lead to uneven wearing down of the cartilage or meniscus of the knee joint leading to early degeneration.( arthritis)
Although the knee joint is a rather simple hinge type joint it relies on ligament ( bone to bone connections) and tendons ( muscle to bone connections) for stability, support and mobility.
Proper functioning of the knee joint depends on a dynamic interplay of all muscles connecting above and below, think foot and hip. The knee is often times caught in the crossfires when foot or pelvic/hip alignment are creating dysfunction and a bio-mechanical nightmare at the knee. For example, an overly pronated (flat) foot, a leg length discrepancy or pelvic rotation can result in excessive loads and pressures at the knee joint.
The most common culprit in the onset of knee pain are weak hip stabilizers, a weak core, weak Quadriceps, namely the VMO, tight hamstrings, tight Ilio-tibial band (side of the leg) and tight hip flexors. These muscle imbalances lead to most forms of the knee complaints we see in therapy including the common Patello-femoral pain in younger athletes. Mal-alignments at the pelvis, foot and ankle will change the ground reaction forces and increase compression forces at the knee and the patella or knee cap. Once you have an understanding of how your alignment and muscles are creating an unhealthy movement pattern, you can begin to work on changing the dynamics through specific targeted, exercise, muscle energy techniques to correct alignment issues, and kinesio taping and orthotics, if necessary.
2. SEDENTARY LIFESTYLE, POOR DIET, EXCESS WEIGHT:
There can not be a discussion of tissue breakdown, inflammation, and arthritis without discussing other major players, as there is never only 1 player in a team sport and complex system like the human body.
I will call these 3 ‘The Unhealthy Triad” and this includes excess weight, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle, all of which are preventable contributing factors.
First and foremost and because it is the easiest to correlate with joint degradation and arthritis, is EXCESS WEIGHT or increased BMI.( Body mass index)
Breakdown of cartilage or cartilage degeneration is often seen in Osteoarthritis. Inevitably it also involves the synovial membrane and thickening of the sub-chondral(underlying) bone. This is also enhanced by active inflammation as the body attempts to ‘repair’ or clean up the affected area by sending in inflammatory proteins and other molecules.
Excessive joint loading is a primary factor when discussing arthritis of the knee. The end goal is to reduce joint loading so to preserve the joint cartilage and stave off arthritis. Weight reduction is obviously one critical component to unloading the knee joint. Under normal walking conditions the load felt at the knee joint is 3-5 times that of body weight for level ground walking and up to 8 times for downhill walking! So even carrying an extra 10 pounds on the body can be felt at the knee joint as an additional 40-80 pounds!
Most of this is felt at the medial ( inside) knee compartment, which not surprisingly is the first knee compartment to show signs of arthritis. In Physical therapy we often suggest joint “off-loading” support in the form of knee braces that reduce compartment load, using a cane on the contra-lateral side,and heel wedges to alter foot mechanics.
Of course, Nothing will be as effective as weight loss in the management of knee OA.
Now that we addressed that rather difficult topic, lets discuss sedentary lifestyle.
While the aggressive athletic warriors ( you know who you are) have their share of wear and tear, sprains and strains and injuries, which can lead to early onset of arthritis, the opposite scenario is the “desk dweller” or couch potato who sees little if any physical activity. Loss of muscle strength, power,endurance and mitochondria ( muscle fueling powerhouses) diminish with low activity. This will directly affect the health and integrity of the weight bearing joints. So when it comes to health of the joints and activity and exercise, it is advisable to maintain muscle mass, power, flexibility and strength through exercise, walking, cycling or a combination of high and low impact exercise. As is most things in life, it’s all about striking a balance.
Last but not least in this triad, is diet. As the saying goes: “You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet.” The diet that most of us are consuming looks less and less like real whole food. We are growing ‘attached’ ( addicted might be the better choice of words) to the processed, packaged, preservative laden, highly palatable pseudo foods that line grocery store shelves and fast food markets.
What does this have to do with my joints, you may ask?
The diets most Americans are consuming is highly INFLAMMATORY, calorie dense, nutrient poor, highly oxidative and damaging to the cells of our body.
Many studies have shown that years of eating habits such as this will lead to early degeneration of joints, increased inflammatory processes in the body, which spells double trouble for all body systems = DISEASE!
Regulating oxidation and inflammation can improve health, vitality and longevity. Oxidation to put it plainly is our cells “rusting” from the inside. While some oxidation is a normal part of cellular metabolism, too much, too quick, without a balance of antioxidant rich foods contributes to disease.
Foods that are anti inflammatory and loaded with anti oxidants should be the focal point of every meal. Dark leafy greens, brightly colored vegetables and fruits, seeds, nuts and omega 3 rich fish is a great place to start.( see below)
A recent study looked at the anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects of Vitamin E on knee tissue of patients with late stage osteoarthritis of the knee.
Those in the study taking the Vitamin E had decreased inflammation and decreased oxidative stress,and improved clinical symptoms, identifying Vitamin E as a “disease-modifying agent for Osteoarthritis.”
What are some examples of other potent anti-oxidant foods: Carotenoids: Carrots, squash, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, kale, collards, cantaloupe, peaches and apricots (bright-colored fruits and vegetables!),purple grapes,pomegranate, cranberries, green tea, Vitamin C: Citrus fruits like oranges,lemon, and lime etc, green peppers, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, strawberries and tomatoes
Vitamin E: Nuts & seeds, green leafy vegetables, and finally my favorite of all: Red wine 🙂 (in moderation of course!)
There are just a few of the more common issues we encounter. There are many more possibilities for the onset and progression of knee complaints and in Physical Therapy we investigate the many contributing and causative factors providing conservative solutions for those who wish to avoid surgery.
If a patient wishes to be intentional and implement the suggested positive behavioral, dietary and lifestyle changes and therapeutic measures suggested in therapy, improvements can be seen in the form of increasing physical function decreased pain and improved mental health, vitality and quality of life.
Stand up, learn what you can do and take action, Knee pain doesn’t have to sideline you from enjoying life.
Be blessed, be well.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me and I will try to assist you :