Over 32 million people in the United States suffer from osteoarthritis (OA), with the knee being one of the most commonly affected areas. According to the American College of Rheumatology, the risk of developing this painful degenerative joint disease in the knee is about 46%.

Developing Knee Osteoarthritis
Knee OA occurs as the cartilage in the joint wears away. As this happens, the bones of the joint rub against one another and the cartilage continues to deteriorate, resulting in pain, swelling, stiffness, among other complications. Severe cases can lead to significantly limited movement, making everyday activities like climbing the stairs or walking extremely difficult.

Below are some of the most common risk factors for developing OA in the knee:

  • Age: The risk of developing OA increases as people get older.
  • Weight: People who are overweight are more likely to develop this disease, as the extra body weight adds stress on the joints.
  • Gender: Women are 40% more likely to develop knee OA than men due to hormone changes, a tendency to carry extra weight, and a difference in the musculoskeletal system.
  • Activity Level: People who spend a lot of time on their feet, whether it be through work or sports, are at a higher risk for OA as the continuous movement can cause wear-and-tear. It is important to practice regular physical activity to prevent the disease, while also being cautious to not overdo it.
  • Genetics: Some people can develop this disease if it runs in their family or if they were born with a joint deformity.

Path to a Knee Replacement
Depending on pain level and progression of the disease, many patients with knee OA may require a total knee replacement. This procedure involves removing the damaged parts of the bones at the knee joint and replacing them with artificial parts. Knee replacements allow for patients to reduce the pain in their knee and improve their ability to perform everyday activities. Knee OA is actually one of the most common conditions that result in knee replacement surgery, and research suggests the number of these types of procedures performed annually is expected to increase to 3.48 million by 2030.

Shaping a New Future in Pain Management
Both knee OA and knee replacements can come with a considerable amount of pain, which can be concerning for patients. For many years, opioids were considered the gold standard for pain management; however, these medications can come with many unwanted side effects including dizziness, nausea, constipation, vomiting, and even the risk of addiction or dependence. Thankfully, the last several years have brought about a rise in the availability of safe and effective non-opioid pain management options that now allow providers to treat pain from things like knee OA and knee replacements while minimizing, or even eliminating, the need for opioids.

From Prehab to Rehab: Non-Opioid Pain Management
Given the availability of many new and existing non-opioid options, patients now have choices when it comes to how their pain is managed before, during, and after surgery. Typically, providers begin by recommending that patients with chronic OA knee pain use a combination of methods such as physical therapy, exercise, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, extended-release steroid injections, or cryoanalgesia—also known as cold therapy.

Cold has been used to relieve pain since the days of Hippocrates in ancient Greece. Modern cold therapy, or cryotherapy, has been around since the 1950s and is a trusted technology for treating pain. Cryoanalgesia is a safe and effective innovation that utilizes the body’s natural response to cold by temporarily freezing nerves, providing pain relief to the affected area that can last for an extended period of time. With this approach, knee OA patients have expressed the ability to return to normal function in certain areas of their life that were more difficult prior to this pain management intervention. For patients who may want to delay surgery, cryoanalgesia can also be a helpful pain management tool. When surgery is necessary, many patients also receive this treatment prior to a knee replacement to help reduce pain before, during, and after surgery. With the immediate relief this treatment can provide, patients often report feeling more confident as they head into surgery.

Providers have found that the use of this method as part of a multimodal pain management approach has led to an overall enhanced recovery experience for patients undergoing knee replacement surgery.

Be Your Own Advocate
Not all providers are aware of, or proactively mention, the variety of treatment options available to manage pain from knee OA or pain after surgery. For this reason, patients should feel empowered to act as their own advocates and ask about their options, and whether alternatives to opioids, such as cryoanalgesia, are available to them. A combination of approaches that reduce opioid exposure can ultimately lead to an enhanced recovery experience that gets patients home quicker and with well-managed pain.

If you or someone you love is struggling with knee OA, or is in need of a knee replacement, learn more about the different pain treatment options available before visiting your doctor.