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Knee Arthritis in the Elderly

Knee Arthritis in the ElderlyArthritis is the term for any joint inflammation. One of the more commonly affected joints, especially in the elderly, is the knee. This is partly due to age-related changes in the joint cartilage, wear and tear within the knee joint which has to bear most of the body weight, and certain inflammatory joint diseases that are more common in the senior years. Knee arthritis is a major cause of physical impairment in the elderly and significantly compromises quality of life.

Types of Knee Arthritis

There are several different types of arthritis that can affect the joints of the body. Some of these different types of arthritis is more commonly seen in certain joints – the larger joints like the hip and knee or smaller joints like the fingers and toes. Knee arthritis in the elderly is mainly due to two conditions :

  1. Osteoarthritis is the erosion of the cartilage lining the ends of the bone (thigh bone and leg bones) which are part of the knee joint. It arises with wear and tear of the cartilage coupled with slower regeneration.
  2. Rheumatoid arthritis is inflammation of the joint lining as a result of the immune system attacking the tissue for as yet unclear reasons. It eventually damages the joint cartilage as well.

Another type of knee arthritis is known as post-traumatic arthritis. It may develop with an injury or even years after a bone fracture which is more common in the elderly, especially with falls.

Symptoms of Knee Arthritis

The most common symptoms of knee arthritis is pain. Joint pain is medically known as arthralgia. Arthritis pain can vary in nature, intensity and may be constant, only occur with movement or be periodic. Other symptoms that may also be present includes :

  • Joint swelling
  • Limited range of motion
  • Abnormal sounds from the joint with movement
  • Redness of the skin over the joint
  • Nodules in the joint
  • Deformity of the limb
  • Difficulty moving – painful, awkward and difficulty with walking

Treatment of Knee Arthritis

There are different ways to treat arthritis depending on the condition. Some types of arthritis can be managed conservatively while medication or even surgery may be necessary in some cases. The various therapeutic measures includes :

  • Supportive devices like joint braces.
  • Mobility aids such as walking sticks and medical walkers to reduce joint impact and provide stability.
  • Exercise and physical therapy.
  • Bandaging, strapping or hot/cold application.
  • Medication to relieve pain.
  • Drugs to reduce inflammation and modulate the immune system and inflammatory process.
  • Nutritional supplements for joint protection and to relieve inflammation.
  • Surgery to remove debris or damaged tissue, realign the bones in the joint, replace the joint capsule and other reparative techniques.

Knee Arthritis in Seniors

Despite even the most innovative and effective treatment options, knee arthritis has a permanent impact on movement and overall quality of life in the elderly. This is partly due to the diminished healing capability of the body with age and is also complicated with other chronic diseases that may be more frequently seen in the senior years. Knee arthritis is not an inevitable part of growing old. However, it is a common condition which can sometimes be prevented and if managed in the early stages may not significantly affect the quality of life of a senior.


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