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The Best Treatments for Osteoarthritis and Knee Injuries


2.7 million people in the U.S. were living with an artificial knee, according to a study conducted in 2010 (1). Since more than 600,000 people a year undergo surgery for a total knee replacement (2), that total has significantly increased and does not include other types of knee repair surgeries.


The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates that “by 2030, about 11 million Americans will have either a hip or knee replacement, making it one of the nation’s most common elective surgical procedures.”


Temecula Center for Integrative Medicine

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons states that “more than 90% of people who have total knee replacement surgery experience a dramatic reduction of knee pain and a significant improvement in the ability to perform common activities of daily living.” However, like any other surgery, it carries significant risks and recovery time. What if there was a better way to repair your knee, with less risk and much shorter recovery time?


Knee Cartilage Basics


Cartilage in your knee is a type of hyaline cartilage called articular cartilage. It is a rubbery tissue that cushions the joint and reduces friction between the bones when you move your knee. It is very tough, elastic, and springy which allows your knee to move smoothly and to absorb shock, up to 20 times your body weight. However, cartilage does not have a blood supply, so it has a limited ability to heal and takes far longer to heal when damaged than other types of tissue in your body.


Cartilage in your knee may be damaged through a heavy impact, such as a sports injury, bad fall, or car accident. Wear and tear may cause inflammation and breakdown of cartilage. Damaged knee cartilage can cause severe pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function. Since cartilage does not repair itself well, injuries and damage will often require medical treatment.


Minor damage may only require conservative treatment such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), physical therapy, or steroid injections. These treatments do not actually repair the joint. NSAIDs and steroid reduce inflammation and pain while giving the cartilage time to heal, and physical therapy strengthens the muscles around the joint to support it and reduce pressure on the damaged cartilage. When conservative treatment will not work, conventional medicine will recommend surgery.


Knee Replacement Surgery


There are two common reasons that people need knee surgery. The first is to repair a torn ligament or meniscus. The second is to replace a knee joint with cartilage that has degenerated or worn down, usually as a result of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.


Your knee has four main ligaments, the lateral collateral ligament, posterior cruciate ligament, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and medial collateral ligament (MCL). When any of these are torn, they are usually treated with surgery, which can require 8 weeks to 6 months for a full recovery.


Anatomy of the knee

The lateral meniscus and medial meniscus are disc-shaped pieces of cartilage that provide a cushion between the bones. Sometimes tears in the meniscus can be treated without surgery, but surgery is usually recommended if the tear is large, or on the inner part of the meniscus. You are usually fully recovered within 8 weeks.


While most surgeries to repair a torn meniscus or ligament in the knee are successful, unfortunately, the injury and surgery to repair it usually have long term repercussions. You are more likely to develop osteoarthritis in a joint which has previously had surgery to repair a damaged ligament or tendon. In fact, one study found that “Neither conservative therapy nor the current surgical reconstruction techniques have been successful in eliminating or slowing the progression of osteoarthritis following ligament injury” (3).


What is Osteoarthritis?


Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative disease in which the articular cartilage of a joint wears down. When this happens, the bones rub against each other, causing swelling, pain, and loss of function. Eventually, the bone, tendons, ligaments, muscles and synovial lining can also be damaged. OA is different from rheumatoid arthritis, which is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disorder that affects the lining of your joints and can damage many other parts of your body.


Arthritis of the Knee

Many factors lead to the development of osteoarthritis. Prior damage and aging are common causes. However, “metabolic factors such as hyperglycemia, dyslipidemia, and obesity affect articular tissues and may initiate or exacerbate the OA” (4). As these metabolic factors are all influenced by diet and lifestyle, it is possible that making changes in these areas may prevent or slow the progression of osteoarthritis.


OA is one of the most common degenerative disorders and is a major cause of disability. Globally, osteoarthritis is the fifth leading cause of disability in women over 60, and the tenth in men over 60 (5).


Conventional treatment attempts to relieve pain rather than cure the disease. Conservative treatment includes physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, and opioid pain medication. When conservative treatments are not enough, injections may be recommended. Corticosteroid injections reduce inflammation and hyaluronic acid injections supplement the fluid already in your joints. Both these injections provide temporary relief but do not heal the damage. When these treatments do not provide pain relief, you may need surgical treatments such as micro-fracture, arthroscopy, or even a partial or complete joint replacement.


Regenerative Therapy Provides Hope for Healing


Ligament and meniscal tears can result in osteoarthritis despite adequate conservative management. The goal of most osteoarthritis treatments is a reduction in pain. Additionally, OA can progress until it requires surgery to replace the joint. Is there anything natural that can be done to slow this progress down?