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Open Access Opinion

The young osteoarthritic knee: dilemmas in management

Paul M Sutton and Edward S Holloway*

Author Affiliations

Department of Trauma and Orthopaedics, Northern General Hospital, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Herries Road, Sheffield, S5 7AU, UK

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BMC Medicine 2013, 11:14  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-14

Published: 18 January 2013


As a result of increasing life expectancies, continuing physical careers, lifestyles into later life and rising obesity levels, the number of younger patients presenting with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee is increasing. When conservative management options have been exhausted, the challenge for the orthopedic surgeon is to offer a procedure that will relieve symptoms and allow a return to a high level of function but not compromise future surgery that may be required as disease progresses or prostheses fail and require revision. We discuss the options available to this group of patients and the relative benefits and potential negative points of each. Total knee replacement (TKR) in the young patient is associated with high risk of early failure and the need for future revision surgery. After TKR, most surgeons advise limitation of sporting activities. If osteoarthritis is limited to only one compartment in the knee there may be surgical options other than TKR. Osteotomy above or below the knee may be considered and works by redirecting the load passing through the joint into the relatively unaffected compartment. A unicompartmental knee replacement (UKR) or patella-femoral joint (PFJ) replacement only replaces the articular surfaces in the affected compartment, leaving the unaffected compartments untouched with better preservation of the soft tissues. Which of these options is best for a particular patient depends upon the patient's symptoms, precise pathology, lifestyle, and expectations.

high tibial osteotomy; osteoarthritis; total knee replacement; unicondylar knee replacement.