27 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis, and when it comes to osteoarthritis of the knee, data shows it is significantly more severe in women than men. The condition occurs when articular cartilage, which functions as a cushion to the bone, wears out. Without a cushion, the bone grinds up against itself, causing pain.
A number of factors can lead to osteoarthritis, including damage from high-impact sports, excessive use, and wear from old age. However, it is important to note osteoarthritis is not just an old person’s disease. People are getting diagnosed at a younger age, and luckily, advances in medicine are allowing individuals who suffer from osteoarthritis to continue leading active lives. If you are a woman suffering from osteoarthritis, below are some tips for you to consider.
1) Stay active and within the normal weight range. Consider that when you engage in daily activities such as climbing up and down stairs, your knees support your weight. What most people don’t realize is that when you go up the stairs, it’s three times your body weight that goes to the knee; when going down the stairs, four times your body weight goes to the knee. Our joints support us and every extra pound makes a difference. Getting off the couch and maintaining a regular exercise program is important.
2) Engage in low-impact exercise. If you suffer from osteoarthritis, staying active helps maintain the health of the joint. However, you should be careful about what type of exercise you do. High-impact exercises such as jogging can ultimately cause more damage. Walking on flat even ground 30-40 minutes, five days a week, is a good way to stay fit while not adding stress to the joint. Other options include low-impact aerobics, an exercise bike and water aerobics.
3) Don’t put your care on the back burner. From my experience, women have a high tolerance for pain. While this can be a positive thing, sometimes it leads to patients putting off treatment. This is the worst thing you can do. Your pain will creep into many areas of your life and affect your overall health. I’ve had patients who can’t sleep because of the pain but still put off treatment. The sooner you see a specialist, the better.
4) Explore your treatment options. There are many options available, depending on the progression of osteoarthritis. These include over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, prescription medication, intra articular joint injections, physical therapy and surgery. It’s important to understand how far the osteoarthritis has progressed. If your cartilage is so worn out that your bone is resting on your other bone, you may need to consider surgery.
5) When considering surgery, make sure you obtain all the necessary information. Talk openly with your doctor about what you can expect from the surgery and recovery process. Questions to ask about the process include:
• What can I expect from the surgery and recover process following surgery?
• How long does the recovery process ?
• What do I have to do when I get out the hospital?
• When can I get back to work, exercise and drive?
In addition, be sure to inquire about the surgeon’s experience. Ask how many procedures he or she has done and what type of implant he or she uses. There are standard, off-the-shelf implant options available, semi-personalized and completely customized options. I use customized patient-specific implants because they fit the patient like a glove, having been made specifically for that patient. It enables me to preserve much more of the patient’s natural bone during surgery and leads to a quicker recovery.
The most important thing to remember is to take care of yourself. Be sure to eat healthy foods, engage in a regular exercise program, listen to your needs and talk openly with a medical professional about your options. Whatever you do, don’t suffer in silence.