It is really a poor term as one does not actually see any inflammation but rather a sequence of destruction of the shiny white joint surface ('joint cartilage' or 'gristle') resulting in exposure of the underlying bone, reduction of the joint space, altered bio-mechanics and a gnawing type of pain.
Doctors sometimes terrify patients by remarking "Oh, it is just a bit of arthritis" sending the patient reeling with vivid images of being crippled in every joint with rheumatoid arthritis. Given this prospect, many patients head home to 'suffer their arthritis', not understanding that there are many types of arthritis, many causes, several grades of severity and many highly effective treatments - but the earlier it is graded and the causation understood the more likely one is to slow or halt its progression.
Being told you have knee arthritis does not mean that you will inevitably end up with a knee replacement. These days it is often possible to slow this progression and have many more years of use of your knee. The sooner you understand the arthritic process and the stage at which you are with your own knee, the more you will be proactive and seek treatment which will delay or even arrest damage. In fact, this is probably one of the most up-and-coming areas of orthopaedics these days.
There is important progress being made in the management of knee arthritis, with new knowledge being gained in what is called 'cartilage restoration surgery'.
Serious attempts are being made by the International Cartilage Repair Society (ICRS) to standardise both cartilage restoration techniques and rehabilitation protocols, to enable standardised evidence to be collected as to the efficacy of the different managements.
In the section on 'how knee arthritis progresses' we discussed the importance of understanding the stage, extent and distribution of the joint surface damage in your knee, as different managements will be chosen based on these factors.
In this section on managing arthritis, we go through the various treatment options and discuss the issues one is likely to have to face.