Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis causing musculoskeletal pain and disability in the knee joint. This condition occurs when the protective cartilage at the ends of your bones wears down over time causing chronic pain, stiffness, swelling and reduced ability to move. Reports from the Arthritis Foundation suggest that about 27 million people in the US suffer from this knee condition. There are different causes associated with this condition such as age, body weight, repetitive stress injuries, gender, hereditary factor, bone deformities and other diseases. A new study found that knee pain that occurs while climbing stairs is an early indicator of the development of osteoarthritis in patients at high risk for OA.
The study published in the Journal of Arthritis Care and Research analyzed people at high risk of OA or with confirmed radiographic knee OA. It was found that out of five activities that may result in mechanical loading on the knee joint, using staircases is one of the primary causes for knee pain. The study findings are important and support the need for early monitoring of OA patients as this disease in most cases is diagnosed in its final stages by which time the joints get badly damaged and surgery becomes the final option.
As part of the study, researchers analyzed a total of 4,796 patients from the Osteoarthritis Initiative (OAI), a multicenter, longitudinal prospective observational cohort. In this group 1,390 patients were confirmed with radiographic OA, 3,284 were deemed at high risk for OA and 122 patients were healthy control patients. Researchers selected about 491 patients for subset analysis and about 58% were female. Their mean age was 61.3 years, and 12% were reported consulting a healthcare provider for arthritis symptoms.
The study participants completed the Western Ontario McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) annually up to 7 years. The WOMAC index comprises subscales that measure pain, stiffness and function. Questions in the subscale relate to pain during 5 different activities – walking, using the stairs, lying in bed at night, sitting/lying down and standing. Each question has five possible responses ranging from no ache, mild, moderate, severe and extreme on a score base starting from 0-4.
The research analysis designed to distinguish individuals with mild, moderate, severe or extreme pain symptoms found that pain experienced while using the stairs was most likely to be the first sign of early stages of osteoarthritis. This was followed by pain when walking and standing (each of which involves bearing weight). Those were followed by pain when sitting and finally pain when lying in bed.
The study results signify that weight-bearing or activity related pain while bending the knees is one of the early signs of osteoarthritis. Researchers suggest that following a healthy lifestyle will help people to effectively manage chronic knee pain. Regular workouts combined with a healthy diet can help them reduce weight and strengthen the thigh muscles – both of which will take some of the strain off the knees. Established multi-specialty healthcare centers offer effective physical therapy exercise programs such as gentle stretching and strengthening exercises that ensure better pain management.