What is tricompartmental arthritis?

Tricompartmental arthritis involves all three anatomical compartments of the knee joint. It can cause significant joint pain and stiffness, as well as instability; it tends to be more common in older adults, because it represents advanced disease progression. Treatment options may include conservative measures such as medications and physical therapy, along with surgery. A complete knee replacement may be necessary to adequately address the condition and restore the patient's mobility.

Known as the patellofemoral, lateral tibiofemoral, and medial tibiofemoral joints, the compartments are the point where different aspects of the knee joint meet. These include the femur, the long bone in the thigh; along with the tibia, the long bone in the lower leg; and the patella, the patella. Knee arthritis usually starts in one compartment and can, over time, spread to the others, eventually causing tricompartmental arthritis. Inflammation in the knee can damage the bone, strain the knee ligaments, and cause chronic pain that can be made worse by cold, wet weather or exercise.

The diagnosis of tricompartmental arthritis requires a careful physical examination of the knee and medical imaging studies. On the images, it is possible to determine which parts of the joint are degenerated and to assess the extent of the damage. This information can be important for a treatment plan. If the patient's knee is clearly severely damaged, it may be advisable to proceed with surgery to address the problem, rather than attempt conservative treatment. Low-level swelling can be treated with medication, gentle stretching, and other conservative measures.

Continuous monitoring can determine if the patient's tricompartmental arthritis is responding to treatment. Some cases may be manageable with conservative measures, while others may get progressively worse. In these cases, surgery may be recommended, unless there are significant contraindications. Older adults with limited mobility due to other problems, for example, may not be good candidates for surgery.

Surgically, one of the best options for tricompartmental arthritis may be a total knee replacement. Medical professionals generally only recommend surgery when other options are no longer viable because the joint is too degenerated, and replacing it may be the most efficient option. In a replacement, a surgeon can enter the joint, cut out the damaged bone, and implant an artificial knee. The patient will need to spend some time recovering, including physical therapy sessions to rebuild strength and flexibility around the joint, but should enjoy increased mobility and comfort after the knee is fully healed.

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