Osteoarthritis in the Young Active Male : Knee Preservation or Replacement ?

Left Medial Joint Space Narrowing in Moderate - Severe Medial Osteoarthritis

Left Medial Joint Space Narrowing in Moderate - Severe Medial Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis in the Young Active Male : Knee Preservation or Replacement ? A 52-year-old male carpenter is referred by his GP after failingnon- operative rehabilitation with his physio for Left medial knee osteoarthritic pain. His pain on a VAS is between 4 - 6/10, with a fair score on a Lysholm Knee Score of 60/100.  He stopped running sports 5 years prior due to medial pain. He stopped pivoting sports over 15 years earlier. At age 25 years he tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament, however, this was never reconstructed, and he underwent a partial medial meniscectomy 10 years ago. 

On examination, his BMI is 27, walks with a varus thrust and his alignment is in varus (bow-legged). His Anterior Cruciate Ligament is incompetent with a Grade III Lachman test and a marked Pivot shift. He indicates medial pain.  He has a full range of motion and intact distal pulses. 

Plain radiographs show severe medial compartment osteoarthritis, and the MRI confirms a partially absent medial meniscus with extrusion. The Patellofemoral compartment and lateral compartment are normal on MRI. He is in 5 degrees of mechanical axis varus on alignment X-Rays. 

Opening Wedge HTO with ACLR

Opening Wedge HTO with ACLR

What are his operative options ? 

Always using joint preserving approach in young patients, particularly in males is the ideal approach.  An arthroscopy is not going to help him as his problem as is a combination of medial osteoarthritis and instability. Multiple randomized controlled trials suggest Arthroscopy does not help osteoarthritis symptoms.  A Unicompartmental Replacement (UKR) is contraindicated due to theAnterior Cruciate Ligament deficiency and while some surgeons undertake combined ACLR and UKR, that is a very controversial procedure in any age group, particularly in young males. 


A Total Knee Replacement would be a possible option, but at 52 he is very young for this. The AOA National Joint Replacement Registry would suggest a male under 55 years would have a failure rate of about 8-10 % by the 10 th year post implantation. As an option especially given, his lateral and patellofemoral compartments are well preserved, TKR would be a reasonable option if he was over 60 - 65, and happy to not run or jump ever again. 

Atraumatic Knee Pain in a Middle Aged Tennis Player


Dr Christopher Vertullo MBBS FRACS Orth

A 62-year-old tennis player presents to you complaining of an atraumatic onset of knee pain over the last few weeks. The pain is associated with a clicking sensation at the front of the knee and is worse after playing. She has never had this type of problem before and is concerned about a meniscal tear.

When you examine her knee, you note that she has a BMI of 31, a full range of active knee motion, no effusion, some wasting of her quads and some patellofemoral crepitus. The medial side of her knee is not tender.

Your next management step should be:

A To arrange an MRI and urgent review

B To reassure that no investigations are needed at this stage as the most likely diagnosis is Patellofemoral Osteoarthritis, and that quadriceps strengthening with her physiotherapist is all that is required. 

C To suggest to stop playing tennis and start some NSAID.

D To arrange an MRI and urgent orthopaedic surgical review

The correct answer is obviously B. An atraumatic onset of knee pain in a middle-aged patient will be degenerative change, in this case of the Patellofemoral joint. The initial management should be to avoid investigations at this stage, lose some weight, strengthen the quadriceps with her physio and consider NSAID prior to playing if no contraindication.

The patient then returns 6 weeks later, the pain is much better, but she wants to get an MRI to "see what is happening". 

Should you order an MRI ?

The answer is "not really", as a plain radiograph, particularly looking at the Patellofemoral joint is much more helpful as the initial test. If you initial diagnosis is incorrect, and she has a meniscal tear, arthroscopy will not be indicated, unless her knee is locked or she has a repairable meniscal root tear. The place for MRI in these situations is rather limited, and only when non-operative management has failed or the diagnosis is uncertain from the history and examination. Finally, reassurance that it is safe to continue exercising is vital as it helps the patient lose weight. Patellofeomoral pain really responds to weight loss dramatically.