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Tricompartmental arthritis involves all three of the 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 an advanced progression of disease. Treatment options can include conservative measures like medication and physical therapy, along with surgery. A full knee replacement may be necessary to adequately address the condition and restore mobility for the patient.
Known as the patellofemoral, lateral tibiofemoral, and medial tibiofemoral joints, the compartments are the point where different aspects of the knee joint meet up. 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 kneecap. Knee arthritis typically starts in one compartment and can, over time, spread to the others, eventually causing tricompartmental arthritis. Inflammation in the knee may damage the bone, strain the ligaments in the knee, and cause chronic pain which can grow worse in cold, damp weather or while exercising.
Diagnosis of the condition requires a careful physical examination of the knee and medical imaging studies. In pictures, 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 move forward with surgery to address the issue, rather than trying conservative treatment. Low-level inflammation may be treatable with medications, gentle stretching, and other conservative measures.
Ongoing monitoring may 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 instances, surgery may be recommended, unless there are significant contraindications. Older adults with limited mobility because of other issues, for example, may not be good candidates for surgery.
Surgically, one of the best options for tricompartmental arthritis can be a full knee replacement. Medical professionals typically only recommend surgery when other options are no longer viable because the joint is too degenerated, and replacing it may be the most efficient choice. 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 in physical therapy sessions to rebuild strength and flexibility around the joint, but should enjoy increased mobility and comfort after the knee is fully healed.