Knee degeneration may also be known as osteoarthritis. It features the breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage in the knee. This loss of cartilage reduces the shock absorption capabilities of the joints, decreases the amount of synovial fluid (like oil for the joints) and increases the amount of joint instability. As the joints are now more unstable with less shock absorption capabilities they begin to wear much faster. Once the joints have lost the protective cartilage layer the bones themselves begin to wear.
In advanced osteoarthritis there is complete loss of the cartilage cushion between the bones. This causes significant swelling, pain and stiffness of the joints. Inflammation of the cartilage also leads to the growth of osteophytes or bony spurs. These spurs create an uneven surface of the joint, cause more frictions resulting in more degeneration and an increased inflammatory response.
Predisposing factors for knee degeneration include:
- Being overweight.
- Previous serious injury to the knee.
- Repetitive trauma to the knee from sports such as from football or the military where long distance trekking/running is combined with carrying additional weight.
- Having abnormally shaped joints.
- Having an untreated symptom such as patellofemoral joint pain that over time wears into chondromalica patella and knee degeneration.
- Weakness of the hip or knee stabilisers causing unnecessary wear and tear on the knee joint.
- Decreased flexibility and stability of the hip leads to compensatory movements in the knee, resulting in degeneration over time.
Knee degeneration generally occurs gradually over time. At first you will start with some minor stiffness in the morning or a general ache after exercise. At first you may not even notice the symptoms of early stages of osteoarthritis however with time these will become more apparent and limit what you can do. It is beneficial to catch it early so you can do your best to manage your symptoms so that you can prevent them becoming severely limiting.
Signs and symptoms include:
- Stiffness of the knees.
- Grinding and crunching sounds as you bend and straighten your knees.
- Decreased movement, being unable to fully flex or straighten you knees anymore.
- Joint pain.
- Pain at night in your knees.
- Muscle wasting, especially of the quadriceps.
- Fluctuations in symptoms depending on the weather.
Treatment of knee degeneration or knee osteoarthritis includes:
- Reducing the swelling of the knee.
- Correct strengthening exercises for the knee, pelvis and lower back to provide stability, the wrong exercises will increase your symptoms.
- Bracing or other support for the knee.
- Reduction of weight to remove the extra stress off the knees.