As the population ages, the incidence of osteoarthritis is increasing – and expected to become 6 times more prevalent in the next 15 years. While there are several kinds of arthritis, the most common is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the result of over-stressing the surface of a joint, most commonly the knee. The primary symptom of osteoarthritis is pain that is activity-related and improves at rest.
The surface of the joint is very smooth and resistant to pressure. This material is called ‘cartilage’ and is an amazing structure. If overloaded with too much pressure, it can start to wear down. As it wears down over the years, your body tries to compensate and enlarge the surface of the joint. This enlargement is what forms bone spurs. While they spurs don’t really solve the problem, they are a sign the joint is wearing out.
Like a car tire, the ‘tread’ or cartilage wears thin.
Most people are not aware of it. One day, the joint becomes painful. It doesn’t have to be the gradual onset of pain. Sometimes it begins suddenly. This too is like the car tire. Most people are not aware of how much tread their tires have lost, but become aware when the tires are down to the wear marks. These wear marks are when joint pain begins.
The tire analogy goes a step further. When a tire is worn out, its time for a new tire. Your knee joint is no different. Steroid injections, gel injections, medications, other injections – these are all attempts to make the old tire last longer. None are true solutions to the problem, but may keep your joint feeling good enough for a period of time.
Not everyone needs to have surgery – most of my patients remain active with the non-surgical treatments but remember, they are all temporary treatments and may need to be repeated.
How much pain do you have? How limited are you? Can you sleep at night? Would you like to do more than you are now? All questions to consider in making the right decision for you.
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Dr. Scott Hacker is a Sports Medicine Orthopedic Surgeon in San Diego, CA, Team Surgeon to the US Olympic Team. He specializes in sports medicine and sports injuries, knee and shoulder surgery.
If you have questions about meniscus tears, or have a meniscus tear, please feel free to contact me at Ask Dr. Hacker or through my office.
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