Battling Knee Arthritis? Try These 6 Things to Help
We see lots of people here at SSOR who are battling knee arthritis. They want to be and stay active, but knee stiffness and pain either limit their activities or make them dread what they’ll feel like afterwards. So they limp around for a few days until they feel good again, then they get back at it and repeat the same cycle. As knee arthritis progresses, the pain and dysfunction tend to get worse. While there are pharmacological interventions like steroid shots as well as lubricating injections, those things really are just helping with pain relief and well, probably buying you time before you have a total knee replacement. All that being said, there are some things you can do to help manage your pain from knee arthritis when exercising. Make no mistake, exercise is good for your knees, and a recent paper even showed that it helped women with knee arthritis. So how do you manage that pain then?
Why are my knees stiff?
Basically as we age, the ends of our knees have cartilage on them that wears out. A good analogy is thinking of a snow-capped mountain. The more we age, the more snow we lose and you get down to bone. The cartilage on the ends of bone serves as a shock absorber and lubricant to the knee. Put another way, think of the cartilage as a really wet sponge imbibed with water. Now imagine the sponge without water and dried up. That’s kind of what knee arthritis is like and why you’re stiff.
Tips for Knee Arthritis
Show up early. Love playing tennis? Great! Get to the facility about 20 minutes early and ride the exercise bike, foam roll your legs, and do dynamic warm-up activities like skipping, high knees, “butt kickers,” shuffling, cariocas/”grapevines”, and other activities to get your knees warmed up. We like to tell our patients “motion is lotion.” The more your knee is warmed up, the better you’ll feel when it comes time to play.
Wear a knee sleeve. Yep, just grab a neoprene sleeve from any sporting goods store and wear one of those. The compression feels good and it will keep the knee “hot” while you workout. If you have arthritis, you know that when your knee is warmed up, it feels best.
Do “unloading” workouts. You love to play rec league basketball, but your knees pay for it. We don’t like to tell people to stop activities they enjoy, but typically, they need to calm the knee down after activities that aggravate it. Therefore, we suggest people get in the pool or cycle in the days that follow. You may find that playing basketball four days a week makes your knees hurt like crazy, but two days is tolerable and you don’t pay for it for a week with pain and limping around.
Consider ointments/linaments. Lots of products are out there with cold and heat creams. We don’t really have a favorite, but for what it’s worth, Biofreeze actually has a couple of papers here and here showing it decreases subcutaneous blood flow a bit and was even a little better than ice in regards to perceived pain (we have no financial interest in Biofreeze!). Usually these products just mask the pain a bit, but hey, if it gets you through your activity, that’s a good thing.
Keep your weight down. This is pretty simple. If you weigh less, it’s less stress on your joints. “But my knees hurt and I can’t workout.” Fair point, but there are options like cycling or swimming. Perhaps it’s just what you’re eating. Consider a visit with a dietitian to see if you need to make some adjustments.
Glucosamine/Chondroitin Sulfate? NSAID’s? Maybe. The research isn’t too high on supplementing with glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate, but that doesn’t mean it won’t help you. There is some evidence showing the combination of the two can help in those with moderate to severe knee arthritis. We’re not big fans of taking anti-inflammatory medications like candy, but after a tough workout, it can help your pain.
If you’re battling knee arthritis, look to the expert physical therapists at SSOR to help you. It would be a privilege to partner with you in your care, give us a call! Remember, you can see a PT in Kansas without a physician referral. Take advantage, we can get you on the road to recovery faster!