Painful Knee Arthritis Treatment That Can Turn Back the Clock on That "Old Knee"

by Chad Garvey, PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT

Anyone who has ever been to the doctor with a painful joint has likely come away hearing something like, “It’s just old age!!” Despite the fact that one joint aging faster than the other seems a little weird, this is a common experience for many with painful joint arthritis. Knee osteoarthritis is no exception, and is more likely the rule.

Knee osteoarthritis (OA), along with its closely related sibling hip OA, is considered to be one of the most serious musculoskeletal disorders in public health, and one of the biggest causes of disability in adults! In 2009, over 900K total knee replacements were performed in the US, at a cost of $42.3 billion dollars. For anyone who has been told they have knee OA, this is a scary proposition, but there is hope!

New research published in 2013 showed that not only can knee OA be managed in a large number of people, especially in comparison to usual care, this improvement can be seen in a short number of treatments and results in a bigger cost savings for the patient and society at large.

If someone comes into the clinic with 3 or more of the following: • complaints of stiffness that lasts < 30 min • joint noise (crepitus) • over 50 years of age • bone tenderness • bone enlargement • no joint warmth

A diagnosis of knee OA is likely, even before an x-ray is taken. Many times medications are prescribed and advice is given, such as weight loss and reduction of high impact activities. Sometimes the physician may give a home exercise program.

However, additional evidence shows that a few visits to a physical therapist to not only better show you how to do your home exercise program, but also provide hands on manual physical therapy, can improve your pain and disability faster and cheaper than medication and education alone.

This improvement was recently quantified in New Zealand where those who received a combination of manual therapy and exercise, compared to usual care, resulted in over $40,000 yearly cost savings for society.

So the next time you are told by your physician that your knee pain is just due to your “old age,” consider consulting your physical therapist for help. What they can offer is low cost, fast, effective and safe.