Osteoarthritis is a painful joint disorder that occurs when your cartilage gets worn away. For this reason, osteoarthritis is also known as wear-and-tear arthritis. It can affect athletes, including hockey players. Here are four things hockey players need to know about knee osteoarthritis.

What are the signs of knee osteoarthritis?

Knee osteoarthritis tends to develop slowly, and it may take several years or even decades for you to notice symptoms. The first symptom is usually pain in one or both knees. You'll feel an aching pain deep inside your affected knee joints, and this pain will get worse when you play hockey or do other athletic activities.

Over time, the pain will get worse, and you'll start to have knee pain even while you're resting. Your knees will be stiff, with a decreased range-of-motion, and you may hear a grating noise inside your knees when you move them. Doctors call this noise "crepitus."

How does knee arthritis occur?

Your knee joint consists of the bottom of the thigh bone, the top of the shin bone and the knee cap. All of these bone surfaces are lined with cartilage, a thin tissue that acts as a cushion. The cartilage protects the bones within your knee and keeps them from rubbing painfully against one another when you move.

Unlike other tissues in your body, your cartilage isn't able to heal itself very well. Over time, it will get worn out, cracked or torn. If the cartilage becomes sufficiently damaged, your bones will rub against each other, resulting in knee osteoarthritis.

When you play hockey, your cartilage needs to work very hard. It cushions your knee joints every time you race down the ice, and over time, the cartilage will wear down. Injuries to the knee joints also predispose you to osteoarthritis, so getting tripped or getting checked can contribute to the injury.

How serious is knee osteoarthritis?

Knee osteoarthritis is a very serious condition. As more of the cartilage wears away, your condition will continue to get worse. Severe knee osteoarthritis will leave you unable to play hockey, but it can also keep you from performing daily activities. The pain and stiffness in your affected knee can get so bad that you can't do daily tasks like standing, sitting or walking. You may be in too much pain to hold down a job.

Can knee osteoarthritis be treated?

A wide range of treatments can be used to help you manage your condition. Non-drug therapies like physiotherapy have been shown to help improve both pain and function in people with knee osteoarthritis. The exercises you perform at physiotherapy may include strength training or range-of-motion exercises. Pool-based exercises can also help you regain function in your knees, though they haven't been shown to help with pain.

Medications can also help you manage your symptoms. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can help, though conservative dosing is important to help avoid side effects like stomach ulcers. Your doctor may prescribe a rub-on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory product, instead. These topical medications can also help your knee pain, but they're considered to be safer.

If your pain is severe, your doctor may recommend surgery. Joint-preserving surgery can be attempted to delay knee replacement surgery. If you receive joint-preserving surgery, the bones in your knees will be cut and then re-aligned to keep them from rubbing against each other. This isn't a permanent fix, but it can delay knee replacement surgery by about six years.

Knee replacement surgery may also be performed as a last-resort. This procedure involves capping the ends of your bones with either metal or plastic to protect them from friction. While you may have heard that people with knee replacements can't exercise, this isn't true; the current advice is that patients can return to most sports afterwards, as long as they are fit enough.

If your knees feel very sore while you're skating, you may have knee osteoarthritis. This condition can sideline your sports career, but fortunately, many treatments are available. For more assistance, visit clinics like Summit View Clinic.