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I Have Knee Arthritis: Is Surgery My Only Option?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), arthritis affects 23% of all adults, making the condition one of the most common ailments affecting older Americans. If you’re living with arthritis, you know how debilitating it can be.

To learn more about knee arthritis, we spoke with Marc Rosen, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Banner Health Clinic in Glendale, AZ, who sees many patients affected by the condition.

“Arthritis of the knee falls into one of two general categories: inflammatory or degenerative,” explained Dr. Rosen. “Inflammatory arthritis is systemic, meaning it can affect your whole body and ‘target organs’ within your body, one of which is your knee.” Examples of inflammatory arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and arthritis associated with psoriasis.

“Degenerative arthritis is localized to primarily a specific joint and is a ‘wear and tear’ phenomenon that we all experience as we age,” said Dr. Rosen. “If you have degenerative arthritis of the knee, things that can worsen your arthritis include smoking, obesity and trauma to the knee, like a damaged cartilage or ligament.” Osteoarthritis is the most common type of degenerative arthritis.

Knee Arthritis Treatment Options

If you have knee arthritis, you know it can be painful and require you to restrict normal activities. “The pain associated with inflammatory arthritis can be treated with anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or naproxen, but those medications treat the symptom, not your actual arthritis,” said Dr. Rosen. “You should avoid extended use of these medications because if taken in excess they can cause kidney failure, stomach bleeding, or liver disease.”

Inflammatory arthritis of the knee can be treated with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) which slow down the progression of the arthritis and can help prevent joint deformities. Other treatment options for inflammatory arthritis include corticosteroid injections or hyaluronic acid injections.

In addition to the above treatment options, your doctor will likely give you tips to help you self-manage your knee arthritis, including remaining active, maintaining a healthy weight, and protecting your joints by avoiding repeat activities with the affected joint.

There is no treatment for osteoarthritis of the knee, so your doctor will treat your symptoms, likely with a combination of therapies including having you increase your level of physical activity, doing exercises to strengthen the affected muscle, physical therapy, losing weight, recommending over-the-counter or prescription medication, using aids like crutches or canes, or surgery.

Possible Nonsurgical Treatment Options

You may have heard of new, cutting edge treatments for knee arthritis - but do they work, and are they safe?

“There has been some recent evidence that Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) or stem cell injections have reduced inflammation in an arthritic knee but this treatment is still new and most insurance companies won’t cover it so it can be expensive,” said Dr. Rosen.

Stem cell treatment has also been quite controversial. “There are no studies confirming long term effectiveness,” explained Dr. Rosen, “and most importantly, no standards as to which cells are used, what dose and where the cells come from.” Dr. Rosen also said that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently cracked down on stem cell clinics for false and misleading claims and products that were neither safe nor effective.

If you’re suffering from knee arthritis, your doctor can help you navigate possible treatment options that would be best for you. To find a Banner Health orthopedic or sports medicine specialists, go to BannerHealth.com.

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