What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a degenerative condition that affects the cartilage lining of joints. Cartilage normally serves as a low-friction cushioning surface over the ends of bones. As arthritis progresses, this protective lining becomes damaged and eroded over time, eventually leading to painful exposed bone in advanced cases.
The x-ray of a normal knee (above left) is shown for comparison to an x-ray of a knee with arthritis (above right). Note the complete loss of joint space between the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone) indicating advanced arthritis.
What causes arthritis?
Several subtypes of arthritis are seen in the knee, each with a different cause. Osteoarthritis is the most common variety. While some individuals are more genetically predisposed than others, osteoarthritis is generally considered to be the result of environmental factors or “wear and tear”. Another type of arthritis – post-traumatic arthritis – develops after a traumatic injury to the joint such as a fracture or soft tissue injury (meniscus tear, ACL tear, etc). Finally, the knee may be affected by systemic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
What are the symptoms of knee arthritis?
Knee arthritis causes an aching pain felt in the knee region, and often extends down into the tibia (shin bone). The pain is generally worse with prolonged standing and walking, but may also be severe when one begins to walk after a period of inactivity. Some people also experience stiffness in the knee. Catching or clicking sensations emanating from the knee are common as well, as the rough, irregular joint surfaces rub along one another. This may cause episodes of sharp pain.
What is the treatment for knee arthritis?
Treatment for arthritis in the knee includes several options including activity modification, physical therapy, low-impact exercise, weight loss, anti-inflammatory medications, injections into the joint, and surgery. When non-surgical treatments fail to provide adequate pain relief and functional improvement, the most reliable surgical solution for advanced knee arthritis is total knee replacement or partial knee replacement surgery.