Getting older is inevitable, but knee replacement surgery doesn’t need to be.

Grandma pottering in her colourful garden with her grandchild.

Remember when going weak at the knees was a good thing?

If sore knees are making it hard for you to get out of bed in the morning, you’re not alone. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and is the main condition leading to knee replacement surgery in Australia. That’s a lot of people struggling to get out of bed each day.

Although often described as the ‘wear-and-tear’ arthritis, osteoarthritis is now thought to be caused by the result of a joint working extra hard to repair itself.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis will vary from person to person. The most common symptoms are pain and stiffness but may also include stiffness and mild swelling around the joint, a reduced range of movement, and clicking or cracking sounds when the joint bends.

While there is currently no cure for osteoarthritis, there are many different treatments that can slow its progression. Knee replacement surgery is sometimes necessary, but in other cases these non-surgical approaches can help you relieve pain and improve joint function, and reduce your chances of a surgical outcome in the future.

First, speak to your doctor

Knowledge is power. The more you know about your condition and the sooner you know it, the more treatment options you’ll have. Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, so getting a proper diagnosis is key to knowing how to slow it down. Speak to your doctor about your symptoms and to work out the best treatment plan for you. Early intervention can limit the effects of osteoarthritis on your life and help you maintain an active, independent lifestyle.

Know which activities to avoid

Avoiding repetitive joint-loading tasks such as kneeling, squatting and heavy lifting can help to delay the onset of osteoarthritis, and therefore decrease your likelihood of requiring knee replacement surgery in the future. If your usual routine involves some degree of kneeling or heavy-lifting – activities like gardening and wrangling the grandkids – try to schedule these activities for when you know someone else will be available to assist you.

Exercise safely and regularly

Contrary to how it might sound, exercising sore joints is one of the most effective ways to reduce arthritic pain and combat osteoarthritic symptoms. This is because exercise helps to stimulate the release of synovial fluid, which provides cartilage with the nutrients it needs to lubricate and loosen your joints.

For knee osteoarthritis, the best exercises are low-impact ones like muscle strengthening, walking and Tai Chi, but you could also try stationary cycling, aquatic exercise, hydrotherapy and Hatha yoga. It’s important to check with your GP before trying any new exercises.

READ MORE: Osteoarthritis explained

Maintain a healthy body weight

Excess body weight increases the strain on your joints, and can cause cartilage to break down more quickly. In fact, excess weight explains almost half of all cases of osteoarthritis. The good news is that even a few kilograms of weight loss can be effective in reducing osteoarthritis symptoms and improving joint pain and function. Maintaining a healthy body weight will also improve your overall health, and help lower your risk of complications should you require a knee replacement surgery in the future.

Consider using walking aids or supports

Bill Withers said it best: we all need somebody to lean on. Walking sticks or canes can help ease pain by reducing the load on your knee. Your physiotherapist may also suggest: taping the kneecap, wearing a knee brace, or using orthoses, which are small wedges placed in your shoe to improve your knee alignment. Speak to your physiotherapist for advice about whether these support options are right for you.

What do I do if I have osteoarthritis?

If you think you might have osteoarthritis, your first step should be to visit your GP to discuss your symptoms. They can refer you to a specialist if necessary. You can also call the 24/7 Medibank Nurse on 1800 644 325 who can support you if you’re concerned about joint pain.

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