India facing knee arthritis epidemic, say experts

More than 15 crore Indians suffer from knee problems, out of which four crore need a total knee replacement, imposing a considerable health burden on the society and country.

In contrast, in China, 6.5 crore people suffer from knee problems, which is less than half the number in India.

Worse, the incidence of knee arthritis among Indians is believed to be up to 15 times higher than that found in Western nations.

This is because of the genetic predisposition of Indians towards knee arthritis, and a lifestyle that results in overuse of the knee joints said arthritis experts on the eve of World Arthritis Day.

Dr. (Prof) Raju Vaishya, President of Arthritis Care Foundation, New Delhi, says, “In the next decade or so, knee arthritis is expected to emerge as the fourth most common cause of physical disability in India. It will be difficult for the country to tackle this huge healthcare burden due to a shortage of healthcare infrastructure and orthopedic specialists. A major reason for the rapid rise in knee arthritis is that life expectancy in India has doubled since Independence, leading to a huge pool of aging population suffering from wear and tear of the knees.”

He adds: “The most common arthritis in India is age-related degenerative arthritis which involves degeneration (wear and tear) of cartilage, and can affect any joint such as the knee. However, while in Indian females, the average age for the onset of knee problems is 50 years, in Indian males, it is 60 years. The reasons for early onset in females include obesity and poor nutrition. As many as 90 per cent of Indian women are deficient in vitamin D, which is critical in controlling bone metabolism.

Its absence in the body directly or indirectly affects the knee. Indian traditional lifestyle too affects knee health. Activities like squatting, sitting cross-legged, use of Indian toilets, and not using proper footwear while walking result in overuse and straining of the knee joint.”

Experts pointed out that while in the Western world, the incidence of hip arthritis in the population is much more than knee arthritis, in India, the situation is the reverse, with only about one hip replacement being done in the country for every 100 knee replacements. The incidence of hip arthritis is quite low in India, they
said.

According to Dr. Abhishek Vaish, Orthopaedic Surgeon at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, “Pain and stiffness in any joint of the body as well as noisy joints (joints making a repetitive sound) are early symptoms of arthritis. In later stages, there is difficulty in the physical movement of joints, and there may also be deformities.”

For the treatment of early-stage knee arthritis, medicines like safe analgesics, intra-articular injections, and physiotherapy are used. In advance stages, the most successful treatment is a total knee replacement.

To prevent arthritis, as he says, one should avoid squatting, sitting cross-legged, the use of Indian toilets, and standing for long periods. Static quadriceps exercise, cycling, and swimming are the three best exercises for early-stage patients of knee arthritis.

The food they eat should also be rich in protein, calcium, and antioxidants derived from dairy products and seasonal fruits and vegetables.

To avoid vitamin D deficiency, adequate exposure to sunlight is necessary.

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