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What is Osteoarthritis of the Knee?
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What is Osteoarthritis of the Knee?


The normal knee is a complex joint consisting of bones and soft tissue structures that are designed to move and endure the forces of everyday activity. The forces of the knee are centralized in three areas, or compartments. Two of the compartments are located at the junction of the tibia and femur, and the third compartment lies beneath the knee cap (patella). Each compartment absorbs the stress of activity through cartilage, a rubbery tissue that protects the bone (Figure 1).

Osteoarthritis is a disease of this cartilage. Knee cartilage can be compared to the tread of an automobile tire, very durable but susceptible to wear over time. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative process which results in the wearing out of the joint surface. Over time the joint surface slowly erodes until the underlying bone is exposed. This exposed bone can be painful when the joint moves and bears weight.

Osteoarthritis of the knee often develops in one weight-bearing compartment of the knee, while the other two compartments remain relatively healthy. Since osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, in the short term it can be managed conservatively. Anti-inflammatory drugs, cortisone injections, and physical therapy can delay the need for surgery, but eventually many people require surgical reconstruction of the knee.

The traditional approach to knee reconstruction has been a total knee replacement, which replaces all three compartments of the knee. A total knee provides excellent pain relief and has been shown to be very durable. For people who need two or more of their knee compartments resurfaced, total knee replacement is an excellent choice to relieve pain and restore function of the knee.

Anterior and Lateral Views

Figure 1

The three bones of the knee joint are the femur, tibia and patella. The areas of the knee that move are protected by cartilage.







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