The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that close to 15 million Americans now live with joint pain or joint-related discomfort. The CDC also project that this number is likely to rise within the years to follow and that one out of every four diagnosed will have severe joint pain. Every joint in the body is cushioned by a tough-rubbery tissue called articular cartilage. This tissue covers the ends of each bone joint. When the joint moves, articular cartilage works as a cushion to protect bones from damaging one another. Depending on your genetics, age, or type of exercise you engage in, this important cartilage at the joints can soften or even breakdown. In extreme cases, this cartilage can completely disappear and require individuals to get surgery in order to function. When cartilage breaks down, it can no longer protect the joints, resulting in bones rubbing together and, ultimately, causing pain and a condition known as chondromalacia.
What Is Chondromalacia?
Chondromalacia can occur at any age and results from cartilage inside a joint breaking down or softening. Chondromalacia can affect any joint in the body; however, the most common location for chondromalacia to occur is inside the knee; chondromalacia patella, otherwise commonly known as "runner's knee." The softening of cartilage does not happen all at once, but rather gradually over time. In the knee, for example, cartilage usually begins to soften behind the kneecap which can cause discomfort or pain. As more cartilage softens, it can eventually lead the cartilage to crack or even shred into a mass of fiber. In extreme cases, cartilage can wear down completely and require surgery. Women are also more likely to develop runners knee than men; however other risk factors can also increase your chances of developing chondromalacia such as having flat feet, intense physical activity, and prior injury.
What Are the Symptoms?
According to a recent study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, in just a five-year period, researchers found over 2 million people diagnosed with chondromalacia, accounting for roughly 7.3% of all patients seeking medical care within the United States of America. Chondromalacia can affect one's ability to engage in even the simplest daily activities and, in extreme cases, require expensive surgery. Making sure you take the necessary precautions before the condition worsens is crucial. There are common symptoms that may point to chondromalacia that you can look out for such as:
One of the most common symptoms of chondromalacia is an aching pain in either behind or in front of your kneecap. This pain can worsen if you go up or down stairs, or if you've been sitting in one position for an extended period of time. Since chondromalacia is not solely in the knees, pain also found in other areas or joints can also be a symptom.
Hearing a creaky or grinding sound when you move your joint can be a sign of chondromalacia. This does not necessarily mean that the cartilage is being damaged, but it could still cause pain or discomfort.
Chondromalacia can also make it difficult for your knee or joint to move correctly past a particular point, resulting in the point to give way unexpectedly. This symptom occurs epically with repeated use. The affected joint or area may also appear swollen, particularly after extended use.
What Are the Causes?
Massaging the affected area can help ease the pain. Massage also helps by improving blood circulation to the region and subdue inflammation. Regular massage with warm oil can also improve general pain and stiffness as it helps to encourage the drain of excess fluid in the lymphatic system. Studies have also proven that massages can help to relieve arthritis pain, which can be an underlying cause of chondromalacia. However, if massaging causes more pain than relieve, it is best to stop and consult your doctor.
Applying a cold towel, ice, or even a bag of frozen vegetables can be very effective in reducing pain and swelling. Cold compression works by applying cold temperature to the area, this constricts blood vessels which reduce blood flow to the area and, in turn, reduces swelling. You should apply the cold compress to the affected area for 15-20 minutes followed by 30 minutes without. Make sure not to apply ice directly to the skin and wrap ice in a cloth or towel first.
Since ancient times, people have used turmeric not only as a staple spice for cooking but also as a versatile remedy for many ailments. Turmeric has many health benefits due to its main active ingredient: curcumin. Curcumin works as an anti-inflammatory by deregulating and inhibiting molecules like COX-2 and LOX, both of which cause inflammation. It also helps improve blood flow. Mix 3 tablespoons of turmeric powder and 6 teaspoons of either olive oil or coconut oil and apply the paste to the affected area. Wrap the area with a bandage and leave on for at least 2 hours. For best results repeat 2-3 a day.
For those suffering from joint pain, changing your diet can be very impactful. Lack of essential vitamins and nutrients can make the condition worse and even lead to the erosion of ligaments permanently. Incorporate foods that are high in anti-inflammatory properties like beets, berries, and green leafy vegetables. Supplements such as magnesium and potassium can also help reduce inflammation and improve lubrication in the joints.
Keeping the affected area above your chest level will improve the circulation in the body and bring more blood flow to the area. Improved circulation also helps to reduce discomforts such as inflammation, swelling, and pain. For those with chondromalacia in the knee, stack a few pillows under the leg either while sitting or lying down to elevate the knee and reduce pain. It is best to keep the knee elevated for as long as possible until the condition improves.
Just like turmeric, castor oil is full of anti-inflammatory properties that can help relieve pain caused by chondromalacia. Castor oil is easily absorbed into the skin, making it a perfect no-mess solution. Rubbing castor oil on the skin can help improve degenerative ligaments while consuming castor oil can help boost the immune system and repair damaged muscle fibers.
Reducing stress at your joints is an important component to easing joint pain. Stretching, such as yoga, ensures that the whole body is engaged and equally stretched which reduces stress throughout the entire body. Stretching also helps to prevent future injury while also aligning dislocated knees and ligaments. Performing stretches regularly can also improve circulation since it increases blow flow to your muscles.