When a joint is affected by arthritis it becomes damaged, painful and stiff. This occurs due to the breakdown of cartilage and its inability to repair and regenerate as efficiently as other structures in the body, such as muscle and skin. As the cartilage wears down, the gap between the bones narrows, causing them to begin to rub and form bony spurs called osteophytes.
The knee joint also has an inner layer called the synovium, which can thicken and result in excess fluid building up, creating pressure in the knee, which adds to the pain already caused by the friction of the bones rubbing.
Research is now showing that nutrition, lifestyle, body alignment and our environment has more impact than genes on our likelihood to suffer from arthritis. The three most studied weapons available to both prevent and slow the progression of knee osteoarthritis are: exercise, nutrition and wearing correct footwear.
Exercise can help slow the progression of arthritis, as well as stabilising your body weight. Cartilage is one of the only structures in the body that doesn’t have a blood supply so its only way of absorbing nutrition and keeping healthy is through movement.
Walking is a great way to maintain the health of your knees, hips and ankles although it is very important to wear the right footwear.
Aquatic (water) exercises are also great as the water reduces the pressure on your knees whilst providing the resistance for your muscles to build strength. Vitamins C and D are known to promote cartilage development and maintain the health of existing cartilage. Vitamin C strengthens cartilage and helps to reduce inflammation, while vitamin D helps prevent cartilage from breaking down.
Omega-3 fatty acids should be an essential part of a diet for a sufferer of knee arthritis as they help to decrease inflammation by suppressing chemicals that break down cartilage.
Research has shown three spices to have anti-inflammatory effects: ginger, cinnamon and turmeric. You can use them in food or take them as supplements. Antioxidants help to protect the body by destroying free radicals before they cause damage to body tissue such as cartilage in joints. Beta-carotene and bioflavonoids are powerful anti-oxidants.
One of the least appreciated weapons against arthritic pain in the knee is footwear. The majority of x-rays of arthritic knees show only one side of the knee is affected by cartilage wear. This is because poor alignment of the ankles and feet change the angle of the knee, causing an individual to carry their body weight more on one side of the knee, eventually causing it to wear down. Many studies have shown that
wearing supportive shoes and orthotics that keep the foot and ankle in proper alignment can considerably reduce pain and swelling in people suffering from knee osteoarthritis.
When looking for footwear to support your ankles and feet you need to consider shock absorption, arch support, adjustable straps or laces to keep your ankle stable, and low heels.
While osteoarthritis in the knees can be a very debilitating condition, it is important to remember that there are plenty of things you can do to improve the condition and fend off its progression.
Oliver Eaton is a registered osteopath and medical acupuncturist at the ProHealth Clinic