Moger: Dealing with arthritic knees

Early diagnosis and treatment is key in preventing chronic pain, loss of mobility and decreased function.

Bobbi MogerThis is the first part of a multi-part discussion on the issue of arthritic knees.

There was a time in my early 20s, after having my babies, that I struggled with 50 pounds of extra weight and began a running routine that allowed me to drop the extra weight. It became so enjoyable I continued to run regularly for the next 20 years.

For the first 10 years, I ran an average of 10 kilometres four times a week and for the last 10 years I dropped that down to, conservatively, eight kimometres three times a week.

I figure I have run 33,280 kilometres in the past 20 years.

To put that into perspective, Canada is roughly 4,473 kilometres from coast to coast. So that’s like running across the country seven times.

Along with running, I have instructed high-impact fitness classes, and boot camp classes involving yet more running and plyometric exercises.

For the last year or so, I noticed that my knees and hips didn’t feel as comfortable running and I have suffered a little more afterward.

I also started to notice a grinding sound in my knees as I walked up stairs.

I Googled “grinding knees” and decided I should get my knees checked out since there was an indication that it could be osteoarthritis.

Since osteoarthritis is hereditary and my mother already had a total hip replacement in her 50s because of arthritis, I needed to see the doctor to find out for sure.

I made an appointment and was sent for x-rays. X-rays are used to diagnose osteoarthritis, typically revealing a loss of cartilage, bone and, in extreme cases, bone rubbing against bone.

Sure enough, my knee x-rays showed early osteoarthritis degenerative changes.

Osteoarthritis, commonly known as wear-and-tear arthritis, is a condition in which the natural cushioning between joints—cartilage—wears away.

When this happens, the bones of the joints rub more closely against one another with less of the shock-absorbing benefits of cartilage.

The rubbing results in pain, swelling, stiffness, decreased ability to move and, sometimes, the formation of bone spurs.

Risk factors for osteoarthritis include family history, being overweight joint injury and overuse

Because of the overuse factor, long-distance runners may be at higher risk for developing osteoarthritis of the knee.

That means athletes should take precautions to avoid injury.

However, it’s important to note that regular moderate exercise strengthens joints and can decrease the risk of osteoarthritis.

In fact, weak muscles around the knee can lead to osteoarthritis.

The symptoms may include:

• pain that increases when you are active, but gets a little better with rest

• swelling

• feeling of warmth in the joint

• stiffness in the knee, especially in the morning or when you have been sitting for a while

• decrease in mobility of the knee, making it difficult to get in and out of chairs or cars, use the stairs, or walk

• creaking, crackly sound that is heard when the knee moves.

There is currently no cure for osteoarthritis. However, early diagnosis and treatment is key in preventing, chronic pain, loss of mobility and decreased function.

In my next column I’ll explain treatment options and self-management measures for protecting and preserving your arthritic knees.

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