You don’t need to have to be a doctor to know about osteoarthritis. It’s one of the most common conditions around. With around eight million sufferers in the UK alone, you almost certainly know someone who struggles with it.
Knee osteoarthritis is what happens when the cartilage in our joints wears away. Instead of sliding smoothly against each other, the bones begin to grind and scrape. This can happen for a number of reasons, including age, genes and injury. But how would you know it’s starting to happen? What are the earliest signs of arthritis-onset? Here are four ‘red flags’ that experts look for:
A dull pain
Arthritic knee pain typically starts as a dull, aching, background type pain. We often liken it to early-stage toothache – a sort of gnawing pain that starts almost imperceptibly, but slowly becomes more persistent. Most people first feel the pain in a particular part of the knee rather than all over. This is usually the inner (medial) side, but it could also be at the front or on the outer (lateral) side.
You’re most likely to first notice that pain after a bout of activity. Perhaps you went for a run and noticed an ache afterwards, which then improved after resting. This could just be a tweak, of course. But if the pain keeps coming back after activity, perhaps a little earlier in the run as the weeks go by, and then tending to fade after rest, we would want to investigate further.
Worse at night
Arthritis patients often report more discomfort at night. Why this happens is a bit of a mystery. One explanation is that levels of inflammation-causing ‘mediators’ in the body – chemicals like cytokines and interleukins – increase at night, especially after a bad night’s sleep. This would activate nerve endings, signalling a pain response in the brain. Others have suggested we’re just more aware of pain when we’re in bed, trying to sleep.
Warmth in a joint usually relates to increased blood flow. This happens when the body is fighting off infection, so it’s important to rule that out. But it can also occur in an arthritis situation – often accompanied by swelling – as the body recognises it’s experiencing a problem and activates its self-defence mechanisms: diverting more blood to the area to protect it.
If the symptoms above sound familiar, what should you do? In the first place, think about changing the activity that brought on your pain, or reducing the length and level of intensity. You could also use simple pain relief like paracetamol or ibuprofen, if you can take them. See if the symptoms settle down. But if they persist beyond a month or so, or become more severe, you should get yourself checked out. A knee doctor will examine the joint, talk about what you’ve been experiencing and if necessary send you for some scans. MRI scans can be particularly helpful with early arthritis, since the imaging can pick up subtle signs of it in the tissues as well as the bones. Finally, don’t be anxious. Nobody wants to contemplate the idea that arthritis is becoming an issue for them but, even if it is affecting your knees, there is a lot we can do today to treat and manage the condition.
Are you concerned about a knee pain, or worried about arthritis? If so, you don’t have to endure it in silence. We’re always happy to meet, advise and talk to people who have worries about their knees – even if it’s just to put minds at rest. You can drop the team a line direct on 01962 826107, or arrange an appointment with Mr Bailey through the website. We’ll be glad to help.