Let's be honest. Knee pain sucks. None of us wish for a day when we can discuss arthritis or joint pain. But let me tell you something. When you suffer from this kind of pain, and you can openly discuss it, it's a relief. It's like going from feeling old and alone in your discomfort to feeling, "Oh my gosh, you get me!"
Through my weight loss journey, I've done a lot of high-impact exercise, like running, and a few years ago I started feeling sharp pains in my knee. I pushed past it. Then, I finally made a visit to The Christ Hospital, where I learned I have early arthritis…among other joint issues. But in openly discussing this, I've found that it affects so many people. Which is one of the reasons why I was very excited to chat with The Christ Hospital Physicians's new orthopedic surgeon & sports medicine specialist, Allison Rao, MD.
Dr. Rao says, "Knee pain happens to almost everyone at some point. No matter what, with age you're going to get, wear and tear on all your joints. Our goal as orthopedic surgeons is to figure out the best way to keep people doing what they love, and get through the pain as long as possible without causing damage."
I personally find this comforting. Joint pain is common, and really just shows that we got out there and moved those joints! It's not like something you did wrong or could have fully prevented. With that being said, I asked Dr. Rao about the best way to live our lives with joint pain or arthritis.
"When you start developing knee pain or really pain in any joint, there are some things that you can do that are on the conservative end, which is where everyone should start," Dr. Rao says. "You could definitely keep maintaining a healthy lifestyle and keep active. It might mean changing up what you do. If you were someone who said, 'I go out and run every single day,' we might recommend trying to add biking or swimming into your cardio routines, so you're working your joints and muscles in a different way."
What about over-the-counter medications?
Dr. Rao says, "It depends on how long you've had symptoms. Anti-inflammatory medications, like Advil and Aleve, are definitely a part of that regimen that we would start with. But before starting anything, I would suggest talking with your doctor to make sure it doesn't interact with anything you're already taking, that it's safe for you to take it."
What happens when it just keeps hurting?
In my case, I kept pushing past the pain because I was afraid to go to the doctor and get bad news (don't do that…go to your doctor). So, I asked Dr. Rao about which fears she sees most often from patients.
She says, "One of the biggest fears people have is that we're going to try to talk them into surgery, then they're going to be unable to keep active or run, either in the short or long term. And that's completely the opposite of what we're trying to do. We want to keep you out of the operating room! Because we know that that can prevent you from participating in what you like doing. So we usually try everything we can to keep you out of the operating room by trying conservative things. That might be getting you in to see a good physical therapist or suggesting a knee brace. We get to know you, use your history, exam, and diagnostic tools, like an x-ray or MRI, to try to figure out what it is causing you pain. Then we develop a plan WITH you, often starting with non-operative options."
And that was also my exact experience from going to The Christ Hospital with my arthritis/knee pain as well. I was afraid I'd be sent into surgery. But I went to physical therapy instead.
You're not alone with your aches and pains! Manage the pain with a healthy lifestyle and talk to your doctor! Dr. Rao is a great resource who wants to help you feel your best and is more than happy to answer your questions.
To hear our full conversation, listen here. Learn more about Dr. Rao, or schedule an appointment online with a joint and spine expert.