Arthritis of the joint is a progressive disorder with multiple triggers but with a common end point if the process is not interrupted.

Page updated July 2023 by Dr Sheila Strover (Clinical Editor)


The term 'arthritis' means 'inflammation of the joint'.

Arthritis is really a poor term as one does not actually see much 'inflammation' in an arthritic joint, but rather there is 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, bone cysts and spurs from the cartilage trying to mend itself, and finally, as a consequence of all these changes, altered bio-mechanics and a particular gnawing type of pain which is often worse at rest.


"Oh it's just a bit of arthritis"

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. In the knee, the most common kind of arthritis is called 'osteoarthritis'.


Osteoarthritis is a progression

Being told you have knee osteoarthritis 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 can 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.

NEXT PART: Types of arthritis