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Knee pain stopped my dad from taking the hikes he loved

But arthritis sufferers can minimize their risk of rapid progression or disability


I was a teenager when my father first started complaining about knee pain after our hikes together. It wasn’t until medical school and intense study on the topic that I understood what had kept my dad from the activities he enjoyed — the most common type of knee joint disease, osteoarthritis (OA). RUSS RIGGS, M.D.

Arthritis is chronic and progressive condition marked by cartilage loss in our joints, and a cure still eludes modern medicine. It surprises most people to learn that arthritis has been the number one cause of disability in the U.S. for the past 12 years.

Even more surprising is that OA is not a disease limited to the elderly — 31 percent of working adults younger than 65 report arthritis as a cause of limitation in their job duties. Since prior knee injury is one of the top causes of knee OA, athletes are at increased risk for developing this condition, often while still in their 30s or 40s.

However, there are ways people can minimize their risk of rapid progression or disability:

* Keeping one’s weight in check is paramount. Since every pound of weight translates to 5 pounds of load on our knees, it is easy to understand how excess weight creates more wear and tear on our knees.

* Moderate activity (such as walking) just three times a week can decrease arthritis disability by almost 50 percent, so regular exercise is an important way to keep our joints functioning for longer. Studies have also shown that physical therapy helps promote joint health and function.

* Multiple studies have demonstrated that guided injections of a natural lubricant into the joint — currently approved only for knees — can help decrease pain and increase function in people who want to stay active.

* Knee bracing is another way to decrease pain by reducing the amount of weight and pressure on the knee, and can produce instant pain relief, resulting in people being able to walk without pain for the first time in years.

No one enjoys seeing a loved one or a friend in pain, as I experienced with my father, and I hope this information can help you or someone you know. We can’t change our genetics, but we can change our eating habits, take walks, and utilize current knee treatments to keep active and live a healthier, pain-free life.

Russ Riggs, M.D., is co-executive director at Reflex, a clinic that focuses on non-surgical treatment of knee arthritis. 503-719- 6783, ReflexPortland.com.