An orthopaedic surgeon in Singapore tells us what to know about osteoarthritis that may be causing weak knees and what you can do to manage or even prevent it.
As one of the most common causes of disability among adults worldwide, osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic joint condition that occurs when the cartilage that cushions the ends of bones wears away over time, causing the bones to rub against each other.
DR POH SENG YEW is a medical director and senior consultant orthopaedic surgeon. At Advanced Orthopaedic & Sports Centre, he treats patients for a wide range of sports injuries and joint conditions that affect mobility and quality of life.
He says that, while osteoarthritis can affect any joint, the knee is among the most commonly affected areas of the body. Our knees bear most of our body’s weight, so they endure a whole lot of wear and tear on a daily basis.
But, while OA most commonly affects adults over 50 as a result of degeneration, Dr Poh has plenty of patients on the younger end of the spectrum, too. Many develop OA as a result of repetitive movements – particularly in sports that involve a lot of jumping or twisting – or past knee injuries. In fact, even an injury that occurred years ago could put someone at greater risk of joint degeneration.
What does osteoarthritis feel like?
As you’d imagine, bones rubbing against each other without cartilage cushioning can be quite painful. “This pain typically develops gradually, although a sudden onset of pain may occur following an acute exacerbation,” says orthopaedic surgeon Dr Poh. Other symptoms of osteoarthritis in the knees include:
- stiff and swollen joints that make it difficult to bend or straighten the knee, especially after a long period of inactivity;
- painful swelling;
- pain that flares up after vigorous activity;
- cracking, clicking or snapping of the knee;
- buckling or weak knees; and
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s advisable to consult an orthopaedic specialist. Imaging tests such as MRI and x-rays can be done to determine if you have osteoarthritis in the knee.
If left untreated, the pain will only worsen over time. In fact, once the degenerative process starts, there is no way to reverse it. So, it’s important to take the necessary steps to manage the condition and prevent it from progressing further, according to Dr Poh.
“Ultimately, the main goal of treatment is to help you relieve pain, allow you to resume your usual activities and prevent permanent injury to your knee,” says Dr Poh. “But the treatment for osteoarthritis in the knee is dependent on your age, the severity of your condition and the symptoms you experience.”
In addition to activity modification and losing weight, your orthopaedic specialist may recommend non-surgical treatment options including:
- physiotherapy to help strengthen the surrounding muscles;
- wearing a knee brace to improve stability;
- medication to reduce joint pain and inflammation; and
- injections to reduce inflammation and lubricate the knee joint.
If non-surgical treatments prove to be ineffective, your orthopaedic specialist may recommend surgery, says Dr Poh. A knee replacement is one type of procedure that can be performed to restore function in the knee and relieve pain.
For younger patients, he recommends a knee osteotomy because it’s a method that “preserves the native knee joint, potentially allowing return to a higher level of activity.”
For patients with early-stage osteoarthritis, he might recommend arthroscopic knee surgery – a keyhole procedure to remove unstable cartilage fragments, and repair damaged cartilage and menisci. Done as a day surgery, this method involves a shorter recovery time than other techniques.
This article first appeared in the July 2022 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!