If large areas of protective cartilage are lost from the joint surface then arthritis develops. This is a common and painful condition that is often associated with stiffness, swelling and joint deformity (bowing of the legs). The commonest form of knee arthritis is osteoarthritis. This is often referred to as ‘wear and tear’ arthritis and tends to occur in mid to older age. Some factors including knee injury, infections, family history and obesity may increase the chance of developing osteoarthritis or cause it to present at an earlier age.
Initial symptoms of knee arthritis are usually pain in the joint during or after activity and a moderate swelling. As the arthritis progresses the pain may also develop at rest or at night. Often the pain seems to be worse in the cold, wet weather and patients frequently describe a ‘toothache’ sensation in the knee.
More advanced arthritis leads to increased stiffness in the knee and a reduced range of movement - initially an inability to fully straighten the knee. If the wear develops mostly on one side of the knee a ‘bow-legged’ or’knocked-knee’ appearance may develop.
In its early stages no treatment is usually needed and patients tend to put up with an occasional ache in the knee. As symptoms progress painkillers, braces and injections may all be helpful.
If non-surgical treatment is no longer effective then surgical intervention may be needed. Surgical options include joint realignment procedures to move forces away from the damaged area or either partial or total knee replacement to resurface the joint.