Physiotherapy for Knee Arthritis

Combine physiotherapy and weight loss to effectively address knee arthritis

The term “arthritis” describes a number of conditions that affect the joints or tissues around the joints. There are over 100 different types of arthritis, but osteoarthritis (OA) is by far the most common. OA affects approximately 5 million Canadians—or about one in six people—which makes it an important issue that demands attention.

Every joint is made up of two bones that meet to allow movement. The ends of each bone are normally covered by cartilage, which protects them from touching and serves as a shock absorber to the joint. OA causes the cartilage in certain joints to become stiff and lose its elasticity, which makes it more vulnerable to damage. Over time, the cartilage may begin to wear away, which greatly reduces its ability to absorb shock and increases the chances of the bones coming in contact with one another.

Any joint in the body can be affected by OA, but it’s especially common in the knees. The two biggest risk factors for knee OA are older age and being overweight. The aging process leads to certain changes in the body that cannot be reversed, as bones become less dense and more fragile, with less water in the cartilage as it also begins to shrink in size. This results in less protection of the bones and can eventually lead to inflammation and symptoms like pain and stiffness. Being overweight or obese, on the other hand, places extra pressure on the knees that stresses several structures in the joint. This can accelerate the process of cartilage wearing away, which will increase the chances of getting knee OA or make it worse.

Patients who develop knee OA typically experience pain that intensifies with physical activity, swelling around the knee, stiffness, and a feeling of warmth in the joint. These symptoms in turn lead to less mobility of the knee, which make it more difficult to walk and perform basic movements like getting in and out of cars and climbing stairs.

Targeted exercises from a physiotherapist are ideal for increasing mobility

Losing weight is considered a fundamental step for anyone who has knee OA or is at risk for getting it, as each pound lost equates to less pressure on the knees. To this end, and in general, movement is also absolutely necessary. Increased physical activity levels—with a well-balanced diet—will lead to weight loss and better mobility, but specific exercises can address the symptoms of knee OA even more directly. Physiotherapists are movement experts that work with each patient to help them move more easily and function better in daily life. For knee OA patients, a physiotherapist will carefully create a treatment plan that considers their limitations and targets them with movement-based interventions. A typical physiotherapy program for knee OA will likely consist of the following:

  • Strengthening exercises: strengthening the quadriceps muscles in the front of the thigh will add support and stability to the knee and reduce stiffness; strengthening the hip and core muscles can also help balance the amount of force on the knee joint
  • Range of motion exercises: these exercises will improve one’s ability to bend and straighten the knee to improve overall flexibility and allow for increased motion
  • Manual therapy: a physiotherapist will perform these hands-on techniques by gently moving muscles and joints to improve their motion, flexibility, and strength
  • General exercise recommendations: a physiotherapist will help you gradually reach the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (like walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity (like jogging) every week in a way that’s right for you

While there’s nothing you can do to change your age, you do have the power to take control of your knee OA with a movement-based strategy, and a physiotherapist can play a crucial role guiding you through this process. If you’re dealing with knee OA symptoms, contact us today to learn more or schedule an appointment.