Knee > Arthritis

What is the Arthritis?

Arthritis is a degenerative disease that breaks down the cartilage in a joint, typically over the course of many years. In almost every joint in your body, the bones are covered by cartilage, which is a resilient surface that allows smooth bending of the joint. The joints of the knee, shoulder, hip, ankle, elbow, wrist, spine, and hand are potentially at risk for arthritis. When arthritis affects a small area of joint cartilage, it becomes brittle and rough. The rough area irritates the smooth tissue surrounding it, slowly spreading arthritis through the joint. Eventually, pieces of cartilage break off, leaving bone surfaces rubbing against other bones. The bone surface deteriorates, possibly leading to the deformity and destruction of the joint. The most common form of arthritis is called osteoarthritis. The wear and tear of sports and activities may put active people at risk of osteoarthritis. It often afflicts joints at the site of an injury. Other types of arthritis are forms of systemic inflammatory diseases that are not necessarily related to sports or activities. The most common of these is rheumatoid arthritis, which is thought to be a result of the body's immune system attacking the body's tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease that affects the entire body and can attack joints that have not been previously injuried. The following discussion deals with osteoarthritis in the knee ­ one of the most common long-term complications of sports injuries in the knee that do not heal properly.


Osteoarthritis may begin after a specific traumatic injury or repeated minor injuries to your knee. Overuse and years of chronic stress on your knee may also cause arthritic deterioration. Though physicians are not exactly sure what causes osteoarthritis, many contributing factors have been identified that put people at risk:

   Age - the majority of people with arthritis are over the age of 45. By age 60, most people have some signs of mild osteoarthritis. However, athletes and active people may be at risk of developing osteoarthritis at a younger age because of the added stress that activities place on their joints.

   Weight - extra pounds put added stress on your knees. Controlling your weight can help relieve some of the excess strain that may contribute to the development of osteoarthritis.

   Activities - overuse and underuse of your joints can contribute to osteoarthritis. Overuse may excessively grind down knee cartilage. Underuse may stiffen and weaken the muscles that help absorb shock in your knee.

   Genetics - some people who suffer osteoarthritis may have inherited a propensity to develop the disease. Research has found a genetic link to the development of osteoarthritis, particularly in the hands.

   Abnormal body structure - joints that are not aligned properly or not matched in size, length, or strength may cause slight imbalances that put added stress on knees and deteriorate cartilage.

Considerations [top]

Osteoarthritis generally continues to spread unless it is treated. Because cartilage has no direct blood supply, it usually cannot heal on its own. Damaged cartilage heals faster and more completely in younger people. As a result, they are less likely to need surgery. Active people over age 40 are more likely to have osteoarthritis complicate their healing process after an injury. At any age, arthritis can lengthen the recovery time from an injury. For example, after surgery to repair a torn meniscus (a crescent shaped disc of cartilage on the top of the shinbone), it can take up to six months to rehabilitate the injury if you have arthritis, compared to three to four weeks without arthritis. There are numerous non-surgical and surgical techniques that can effectively treat arthritic pain. The initial symptoms can be treated with rest, ice, light exercise, and anti-inflammatory medication. As the disease progresses, you may want to undergo an arthroscopic evaluation. Depending on the amount of cartilage damage, surgery or possibly a total joint replacement may be required. Most athletes with mild arthritis usually return to some type of activity after treatment.

Orthopedic Evaluation

There are usually three parts to an orthopedic evaluation: medical history, physical examinations, and tests your physician may order.


Your doctor will likely ask you when you noticed your knee pain, how it has been feeling since the pain began, and if your knee has been previously injured. Physicians also typically ask about other conditions, such as diabetes and allergies, and medications currently being taken. You may also be asked about your physical and athletic goals to help your doctor decide what treatment might be best for you in achieving those goals. You should let your doctor know about any family history of arthritis, as well as about any medications you are taking.


A physician may begin to diagnose arthritis by feeling around the painful knee, and testing ligament and tendon strength by checking your knee's range of motion. Bending and flexing the knee can help a physician determine if there are any mechanical problems like locking or catching.


Should your physician require a closer look, these tests may be conducted:

   Several views of X-rays can usually provide good images of the knee for diagnosing arthritis. X-rays are particularly useful for assessing bone damage.

   Blood tests and fluid samples are often given to rule out other diseases. Physicians may remove a sample of fluid from your knee with a small needle to send to a lab for analysis. Results are usually available within 48 hours.


   Imaging techniques

R.I.C.E., Bracing, and Physical Therapy
Intra-Articular Corticosteroid Injection
Unicompartmental Knee Replacement
Total Knee Replacement

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