How Does Knee Arthritis Happen?!

Mar 10, 2024
How Does Knee Arthritis Happen?!
The role of subchondral bone stiffening in the development of knee osteoarthritis

Subchondral Bone Stiffening: The Pivotal Role in Knee Arthritis Development


Osteoarthritis of the knee is a debilitating condition affecting millions worldwide, often leading to significant pain and mobility issues. Recent research highlights the crucial role of subchondral bone stiffening in the knee as a rate-limiting step in the development of this form of arthritis. This article delves into the intricacies of this process, examining the biomechanical and biochemical aspects that contribute to knee osteoarthritis.

Subchondral Bone Stiffening and Coronal Plane Alignment

The human knee joint is a complex structure where proper alignment plays a pivotal role in maintaining joint health. Misalignment, particularly in the coronal plane during stance and gait, significantly influences subchondral bone remodeling. This misalignment leads to uneven distribution of mechanical loads across the joint, which, over time, results in changes in the elasticity of the subchondral bone.

The subchondral bone, a layer of bone just below the cartilage, plays a critical role in absorbing and distributing forces across the joint. In the context of coronal plane misalignment, the subchondral bone on one side of the joint experiences increased mechanical stress. This stress triggers biological and biochemical responses in the bone, leading to stiffening. This stiffening is evident on both the femoral and tibial sides of the joint and is a key factor in the progression of arthritis.

Impact of Loading and Cartilage Matrix Dissolution

The stiffening of the subchondral bone impacts the biomechanics of the entire joint. Increased stiffness alters the load distribution, leading to higher impact forces during movement. These forces contribute to the breakdown of the cartilage matrix, a crucial component for joint function. The dissolution of this matrix into the synovial fluid initiates a cascade of degenerative changes in the joint.

Activation of Synovial Lining Cells and Inflammation

Approximately 20% of type A synovial lining cells, such as monocytes, react to these changes by having their surface receptors activated. This activation leads to the release of an inflammatory secretome from the cells. The secretome contains inflammatory cytokines like interleukin-1 (IL-1), which further exacerbate joint destruction. This inflammatory response plays a significant role in the progression of osteoarthritis, contributing to both joint damage and the symptoms experienced by patients.

Cumulative Damage and Clinical Implications

The ongoing impact loading, coupled with coronal plane malalignment, results in cumulative damage to the joint. This damage, over time, leads to whole compartment arthritis, characterized by extensive joint destruction and clinical pain syndromes. The progression from subchondral bone stiffening to full-blown arthritis highlights the interconnected nature of joint biomechanics, biochemistry, and inflammation.


The understanding of subchondral bone stiffening as a key factor in the development of knee osteoarthritis represents a significant advancement in the field. This knowledge opens avenues for early intervention strategies focused on correcting alignment issues and preventing subchondral bone changes, potentially slowing or halting the progression of arthritis. Future research in this area holds promise for developing more effective treatments and management strategies for those suffering from knee osteoarthritis.