First, a few facts. Feel free to use these at your next cookout or family dinner.
The knee is the largest joint in the body. With good reason. Walking and running. Turning, crouching, climbing stairs and jumping. Or, simply standing around. In nearly every activity we undertake, the knee plays a key role.
“Americans are living longer, more active lives; so, it’s no surprise that problem knee joints are a growing problem, leading to total knee joint replacement,” says McLeod Orthopedic Specialist Eric Heimberger, MD of McLeod Orthopaedics Seacoast. “The three main triggers leading to a degeneration of the knee are simple wear & tear, arthritis and injury.”
1. WEAR & TEAR
Cartilage is the substance that covers the joints and essentially lubricates movement. In the knee, cartilage covers the ends of bones and the underside of the kneecap. All cartilage wears with use, leading to many knee joint replacements in people over 65 years of age.
Younger – but maturing people in their 40s and 50s who play a lot of sports — can feel the problem sooner.
Some jobs that require extensive kneeling, crouching or climbing can endanger the cartilage. For instance, house painters that climb ladders and kneel to paint low spots are especially susceptible to this wear.
Arthritis of the knee is the leading cause of disability in the US. There are basically 2 types of this disease that can cause knees to degenerate.
An injury or impact to the knee can cause physical damage. Injuries could be as mild as a sprain — caused by sudden or unnatural twisting — or as severe as a kneecap fracture — usually caused by hitting something very hard. In some cases, the damage will trigger arthritis.
KNEE DEGENERATION SYMPTOMS
Common symptoms include stiff joints or pain. If the cartilage is heavily worn, a person may also feel the “grating” of bone-on-bone or a “catch” when they move the knee. At its worst, it is disabling.
WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR
A range of treatments can return you to normal activity. Minor pain can be handled with over-the-counter medication, such as ibuprofen. But don’t ignore pain that continues.
Here are some guidelines on when to see a doctor, if:
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Sources include: McLeod Health, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, National Institutes of Health, UCSF, Arthritis Foundation, National Health System (UK), Rheumatology Reports