Massage therapy has been shown to reduce pain and stiffness in people with knee osteoarthritis, while also improving range of motion and functionality.

As the U.S. population ages, so will the incidence of osteoarthritis. Accoridng to statistics published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism, by 2030, 25 million Americans, or 9.3 percent of the adult population, are expected to experience “arthritis-attributable activity limitations.” And according to an article published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine, “Americans aged 50 years and older collectively lose about 86 million quality-adjusted life-years to knee osteoarthritis obesity, or a combination of these conditons.”

Knee osteoarthritis symptoms can include pain, stiffness, swelling and reduction in knee mobility. Osteoarthritis of the knee is a leading cause of disability and loss of independence, and it is most typically a slow, progressively degenerative disease in which the joint cartilage gradually wears away due to trauma, aging or infection, according to a press release from Henry Ford Hospital, where arthritis research is conducted.

As the cartilage thins, the surrounding bone may thicken. Often bones rub against one another and may be the individual’s source of pain. In most cases, normal activity becomes painful and difficult.

A new report suggests that the knee should be treated as an organ. Henry Ford Hospital researcher Fred Nelson, M.D., “suggests that viewing the knee as an organ in the same way doctors examine the heart for heart disease could lead to better therapies for treating osteoarthritis, one of the five leading causes of disability in elderly men and women,” according to a hospital press release, which added that the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons asserts that the risk for disability from osteoarthritis of the knee is as great as that from cardiovascular disease.

“For years we’ve looked at the aging knee strictly from a mechanical perspective, recognizing the critical role of articular cartilage. We keep forgetting that other structures about the knee are also affected,” says Nelson, director of Henry Ford’s Osteoarthritis Center. “The underpinnings of research about a degenerative disease like osteoarthritis should take into account the bone, cartilage, ligaments, nerves and circulating chemicals and how these components collectively work together to affect the function of the knee.”

An exhibit that in part examines degenerative knee arthritis as an organ in failure will be displayed at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Feb. 15-18 in San Diego.

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