Why Knees Are Susceptible to Osteoarthritis?
The knee is a complex and remarkable joint on which the ease and fluidity of our everyday movement literally hinges. However, its very complexity is part of the reason the knee is so susceptible to osteoarthritis.
We’re going to explore the intricacies of the knee joint, and how its role in supporting our weight and ambulation makes it particularly vulnerable to injuries, wear and tear, and developing the pain, stiffness, swelling or reduced range of motion associated with osteoarthritis.
The root causes of these symptoms are varied - a combination of genetic factors and lifestyle choices - but understanding these possible causes is the first step on the path towards effective prevention and management of knee osteoarthritis.
What is the knee joint?
The knee joint is a marvel of biomechanical engineering: bones, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons working in harmony to facilitate movement. The femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone), and patella (kneecap) come together to form the knee joint. Between these bones is cartilage, a smooth and flexible tissue which provides cushioning - like suspension on a car - and also reduces friction between the bones during motion. The ligaments and tendons provide stability by connecting and holding the bones and muscles in place around the joint.
A weight-bearing joint
One of the foremost functions of your knees is to bear the weight of your body, supporting you and providing stability as you move about. Whenever you’re upright, walking, running or doing any sort of physical activity, your knees are placed under considerable pressure as they work to keep you in balanced motion. Consequently, the weight your knees have to bear is almost constant, and means they are especially susceptible to wear and tear over the course of your lifetime.
Your weight on your knees
So, given that your knees spend so much time holding you up and moving you from place to place, it stands to reason that the more you weigh, the greater the stress on your knees. Excess weight makes your knees work harder, accelerating the wearing down of cartilage and increasing the likelihood of arthritis. In short, your knees are not designed to carry too heavy a load, so keeping your weight in a healthy range minimises the rate of cartilage breakdown that ultimately leads to the pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis.
The impact of injuries
The complex, intricate nature of the knee means that there are any number of ways in which it can be damaged - and you don’t have to be into extreme sports for this to happen; a simple twist or fall can do the trick. Any injury can have profound consequences that lead to osteoarthritis; if damage leads to a misalignment of your knee, the delicate biomechanical engineering of the joint will go awry, leading to increased stress on the knee and accelerated wearing down of cartilage. This, in due course, could lead to osteoarthritis.
A matter of time
The near-constant weight-bearing nature of the knee means that perhaps the greatest contributing factor towards osteoarthritis is time. As we age, the cumulative effect of high-impact activities such as walking and running over the years inevitably causes wear and tear on the cartilage - and, as we’ve established, the absence of cartilage increases the risk of osteoarthritis. Although we all age at the same rate, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and avoiding undue risks or strain will keep the risk of osteoarthritis at bay for as long as possible.
It’s in the genes
Anyone with a family history of osteoarthritis will have a greater likelihood of experiencing the condition themselves. Genes may play a part in determining the structure and integrity of your joints, so some people may be more susceptible to issues like cartilage breakdown that hasten the onset of osteoarthritis.
What can be done?
Knee osteoarthritis does not necessarily mean the end of an active lifestyle - there are things that can be done to mitigate and manage your symptoms, improving your quality of life.
The first port of call will always be non-surgical, drug-free interventions such as lifestyle modifications, physical therapy or drug-free treatments, like FlexiSEQ. Often, these measures will be enough to effectively alleviate pain and improve the function of your knees. In more severe cases painkilling drugs surgical options like arthroscopy or joint replacement might be considered.
Whatever your situation and the severity of your symptoms, many people find that with the right combination of treatments they can continue to live life on their terms and carry on with the activities that they love.
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