Medial Compartment Osteoarthritis

Medically Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on November 02, 2022
3 min read

Medial compartment osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis in your knee.

In osteoarthritis, the smooth, slippery cartilage that covers the ends of your bones and helps them glide over each other slowly wears away. This makes the bones rub each other at the joint.

Age, injury, and repeated motion can lead to osteoarthritis, the most common type of knee arthritis.

The medial compartment is the side of your knee closest to the other knee. The lateral compartment is on the other side of your knee. Osteoarthritis most often shows up first in the medial compartment of your knee.

Typical symptoms like pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of motion often get worse over time.

The pain may be the most uncomfortable and stiff in the morning when you wake up. You might not be able to move your knee freely, and you may notice a scraping or crunching feeling when you do. Doctors call this crepitus.

If it’s only in your medial compartment, the pain could center on the inside part of your knee. But the discomfort may be more general if there's a tear of something called the meniscus (a piece of tough, rubbery cartilage between your shin and thigh bones). A breakdown of other tissue in your medial compartment can cause general pain, too.

Normal wear and tear is a big reason you get osteoarthritis, especially after age 50. But other things can cause it or make it worse, like:

  • An injury
  • Constant lifting, jarring, or bending

Sports with repeated motions on your knee like jogging, basketball, and tennis are examples of things that bring those constant movements.

Some injuries that can happen to your medial compartment include:

  • Damage to the meniscus
  • Looseness in the ligaments that hold your knee together
  • Overstress to your knee, maybe from being overweight
  • Your knee bones don’t line up correctly
  • Fracture of the bones in your knee

Your doctor will ask about your health history and the symptoms you feel. They might take a sample of your blood to check for characteristics that might signal different types of arthritis.

You may have X-rays or other imaging tests like a CT scan or an MRI. These can help your doctor zero in on your problem area and learn what causes it.

There are a number of things your doctor can suggest to help you manage osteoarthritis in your knees, including:

  • Medication for pain and swelling, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)
  • A knee brace to ease the load on the inside of your knee
  • Physical therapy
  • Ice and heat therapy
  • Viscosupplementation, a procedure where your doctor injects a liquid called hyaluronic acid into your knee to ease pain and make it easier for you to make some movements

In some cases, surgery might be an option. Possible procedures include:

Knee cartilage transplant. A surgeon removes your damaged cartilage and implants cultured cartilage spheres (chondrospheres) into the prepared defective area.

Total knee replacement. Also known as total knee arthroplasty, this is a replacement of all or part of the knee joint -- including bone and cartilage.

Unicompartmental knee arthroplasty. This is the replacement of only the medial side of your knee.

Medial tibial osteotomy. In some cases, your doctor may realign the knee by reshaping either the tibia or femur.

Lose just 10 pounds and you’ll take as much as 40 pounds of force off your knees. That’s 40 less pounds of wear and tear on your knees every day, which could make a big difference over time.

It also helps to keep moving. Exercise seems to help keep your knees healthy, as long as you don’t do the same motion too much or overstress a joint that’s already injured.

Talk to your doctor if you have knee pain. It may be better to avoid exercise that involves kneeling, bending deeply, or running downhill.