Knee Questions:

Knee Arthritis
Total Knee Replacement
Oxford Knee Replacement
ACL Reconstruction
Patello Femoral Pain
Cartilage Injury
Meniscus Injury


How does arthritis destroy the knee?

The ends of the femur (thighbone), tibia (shinbone) and the back of the patella (kneecap) form the knee joint.  They are covered with a thin, smooth, glistening material called hyaline cartilage.  It is the knee lyaline and meniscal cartilage that cushion the joint and absorb shock.  Normally, this cartilage is lubricated by a few drops of specialized joint fluid.  The arthritic knee may produce increased amounts of fluid ("water on the knee").  Cartilage has poor healing capabilities and once it is damaged it no longer provides cushioning.  As it wears away, bone becomes exposed.  Bone surfaces rubbing against each other can cause significant pain.

How do we treat arthritis without surgery?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis.  Procedures such as cartilage transplant are not indicated for the person with a degenerative knee.  They are generally used on the young athlete that has a small injury to their articular cartilage.  Our initial approach is the alleviation of symptoms with conservative measures (oral medications, injections, activity modifications).  Anti-inflammatory medicatins (NSAIDS, Advil, Aleve, Celebrex, Vioxx) have all about the same effectiveness and only improve symptoms-they do not change the progression of the arthritis.  Occasionally we will recommend an injection of an anti-inflammatory steroid into the knee joint.  These injections are generally safe and well tolerated and may be repeated every three months if found effective (3-4 times a year).  Another type of injection is Synvisc (hyaluronic acid).  This material is a normal material found in the knee joint fluid although in abnormal amounts in the arthritic knee.  By injecting this medicine, the knee begins to produce more normal joint fluid.  This is an expensive series of three injections that we have found to work approximately 50% of the time (less than 40% of the time in patients with advanced arthritis).

One may also control arthritis with activity modification.  You can think that a degenerative knee is like having a tire with 50,000 miles of tread on it.  One should continue to maintain a fit lifestlye, but an effort should be made to perform more unweighted activities.  The best activity for your knee is to perform pool aerobics.  The next best activities are a stationary bike, recumbent bike and elliptical trainer.  Walking and treadmill machines are better than running.  One should save the highter impact activities for things one really enjoys doing.

When should I have surgery?

There are surgical procedures for a degenerative knee other than a replacement.  Occasionally, we will perform a knee scope to clean out the debris and thereby decreases the soreness and swelling in the knee.  This has variable results and the benefit is rarely sustained past one year.  Other surgeries include an unicompartmental knee replacement (replacing only the inner or outer portion of the knee) or an osteotomy (realigning the knee by cutting the femur or tibia).  These procedures are indicated in select patients.

The main indication for total knee replacement is arthritis of the knee accompanied by considerable pain and loss of function that does not respond to conservative treatment.  The decision to proceed with surgery is ultimately up to the patient.  Arthritis of the knee is not a malignant condition and is not life threatening.  Quality of life is the main consideration.  When you feel that you are living your life around your knee and your symptoms prevent you from living your life the way you wish, consideration to a knee replacement should be given.
Articular cartilage
Lateral meniscus
Medial meniscus
Blair A. Rhode, M.D.
Sports Medicine
Reconstruction Specialist

Board Certified*


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