Osteoarthritis is a condition that is highly prevalent throughout the world. As musculoskeletal health care providers we see a lot of osteoarthritis, more than 30 million cases of osteoarthritis are present in the United States every year, of those almost half or 14 million are in the knee.
It’s important to recognize that while osteoarthritis is a disease of the aging population and as life expectancy increases, we anticipate a growing number of patients with osteoarthritis. We have also noticed over the last 16 years that the incidence of osteoarthritis is rising in a younger population. The age of onset of osteoarthritis 16 years ago was roughly age 72, what we’ve seen over time is that now the onset of symptomatic osteoarthritis is roughly in the range of age 56. As these younger patients develop osteoarthritis of the knee and live longer we have a disease that really must be classified as a longitudinal chronic disease that they are living with for a very long time.
With osteoarthritis being a chronic progressive condition for which there is no cure the treatment is to manage the symptoms of osteoarthritis and through that continuum of managing the symptoms decrease pain, increase function and prolong the useful life of the joint.
Osteoarthritis of the knee is a chronic degenerative disease that results in erosion of the cartilage that normally protects and shock absorbs and enables smooth motion of the bones against one another. It is generally associated with an aging process and as people age that cartilage erodes more and more exposing bone such that bone actually begins to grind against bone in the latest stages of the disease.
Those who have osteoarthritis of the knee often present with pain swelling loss of motion inability to enjoy the things even in daily life such as walking climbing stairs riding a bike.
In the management of osteoarthritis, the simple things that can be done include weight loss and that’s exceedingly difficult with an osteoarthritis involving the knee because exercise can be limited.
We should also not underestimate the burden of osteoarthritis in the knee on the whole body, this can lead to loss of activity which ends up in a spiral of weight gain, diabetes, heart condition and even cancer.