In an earlier blog post, we discussed meniscal tears, which are actually a very common knee injury. You often hear about athletes suffering from these, due to their twisting and turning quickly, with one or both knees bent while playing a sport or lifting a weight. However, the truth is that any individual at any age can tear a meniscus.
The meniscus is the cartilage between the three bones that come together to form your knee joint: the femur (thighbone), tibia (shinbone), and patella (kneecap). These bones form three knee ‘compartments’, with each compartment named after the two bones that join that compartment of the knee:
– Medial (inside) femoro-tibial compartment
– Lateral (outside) femoro-tibial compartment
– Patellofemoral compartment (formed by the kneecap and the femur)
Several studies have shown that a meniscal tear can lead to knee osteoarthritis (inflammation of the joint), which can affect one – or all – of these compartments. It typically starts in one compartment and can, over time, spread to others. When all three compartments are affected, it’s called tricompartmental osteoarthritis. This form of arthritis tends to be more common in older adults, as it represents an advanced progression of the disease.
In a normal knee joint, the cartilage allows for smooth movement within the joint, while in an arthritic knee, the cartilage becomes thinner – or completely absent. The inflammation in the knee may damage the bone, causing it to become thicker around the edges of the joint and possibly form bony ‘spurs’. It can also strain the ligaments in the knee, as well as cause chronic joint pain, stiffness and restricted range of motion, which can intensify in cold, damp weather, or while exercising.
There are several conservative treatments to help relieve knee osteoarthritis, such as medication, gentle stretching, and physical therapy. However, if these treatments aren’t effective, you might need to consider arthroscopic surgery or even a full knee replacement. While surgery takes some time to recover, and requires regular physical therapy sessions to rebuild strength and flexibility around the joint, you should enjoy increased mobility and comfort after your knee has fully healed.
Diagnosis requires a careful physical examination of the knee and medical imaging studies. As CT scans show soft tissues such as ligaments and muscles more clearly than traditional X-rays, they are the most useful tool for diagnosing these types of knee problems. Based on these pictures, your doctor can determine which parts of the joint have degenerated, as well as assess the extent of the damage.
At Orthopaedic Associates, Inc., we focus on non-invasive treatment first, such as target rehabilitation over surgery, whenever possible. Even if surgery is required, newer treatment approaches can significantly reduce downtime. If you have suffered a knee injury in the past and are concerned you might be suffering from osteoarthritis, please contact us at (440) 892-1440 to schedule a personalized appointment with one of our highly trained orthopaedic physicians.