Learn about how the experts at University of Missouri Health Care diagnose arthritis in the knee joint.

How is worn cartilage diagnosed?

x-ray of cartilage

Symptoms such as pain, swelling, stiffness, lack of movement and grinding in the knee can suggest knee cartilage is no longer smooth. X-rays are a common way of diagnosing diseased cartilage in the knee. The X-rays show the bones around the joint. The cartilage layer cannot be seen on X-rays, but ut shows up as a space between the femur and tibia bones.

In a healthy knee, this space is about a quarter of an inch thick. When joint space taken up by cartilage is destroyed by arthritis, X-rays show joint-space narrowing. With significant cartilage loss, the bones may touch each other; doctors call this finding “bone-on-bone” on the X-rays.

Over time, cysts and bone spurs may form around the knee. Left untreated, the leg can get so deformed it appears to be either bow-legged or knock-kneed.

Are there other ways to see the extent of damage to knee cartilage?

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans are a special X-ray study that can diagnose diseased cartilage somewhat more accurately and at an earlier point than plain X-rays. Another method includes actually looking inside the knee during a procedure called “knee arthroscopy.” This involves the surgeon placing a small camera in the knee and inspecting the cartilage.

Learn more about knee replacement surgery at MU Health Care.