Knee Arthritis Is Becoming a Major Medical Problem

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Arthritis of the knee is striking Americans at younger ages, new research has found, but shedding a few pounds if you’re overweight may reduce your risk. The studies were presented Saturday, November 12, at the American College of Rheumatology annual meeting, in Chicago.

Nearly 6.5 million Americans between the ages of 35 and 84 will receive a diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis in the next decade, according to these new projections.

“The diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis is occurring much earlier,” said study author Dr. Elena Losina, co-director of the Orthopedics and Arthritis Center for Outcomes Research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Dr. Losina’s study compared the average age of initial diagnosis of knee arthritis today to what was seen in the mid-1990s.  She found that the average age of diagnosis has dropped in 15 years from 66 to 59.  Back then only 1.5% of new cases of knee osteoarthritis occurred in people between the ages of 45 and 54.  Today 5% of new cases are diagnosed in that age cohort.

Dr. Losina suspects that increased obesity (an accepted fact in U.S. adults) along with continued participation in sports activities into middle age may explain her findings, although she cautions that more research is needed.

Injuries to the knee have been linked with an increased risk of knee arthritis. And certain sports are riskier than others, said another researcher, Dr. Jeffrey Driban, an assistant professor of rheumatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. He reviewed studies that looked at a link between sports participation and knee OA. He focused on 16 studies, and then honed in on 10 that looked at athletes and non-athletes.

While there were not great differences later in the amount of knee OA for former sports players and non-athletes, he did find a risk linked with the type of sport and level of

Soccer players, whether elite level or not, had a greater risk of knee OA, he found. So did elite long-distance runners, competitive weight lifters and wrestlers.

The increased risk of arthritis in these participants varied from about threefold to more than sixfold, compared to non-athletes, he said.

In another recent study Dr. Stephen Messier of Wake Forest University found that weight loss combined with a regular exercise program improved mobility by as much as 50% among those people with knee osteoarthritis.  His 18 month study was based on research with 399 overweight males and females with knee osteoarthritis.  Their average age was 66 at the beginning of the study.

Experts remain divided on whether or not prevention of knee osteoarthritis can be helped if people will limit their exercise to so-called low impact sports, such as swimming and cycling.  There seems to be agreement that once a person is diagnosed with the condition exercise programs should be geared towards low impact activities.

Losina’s research was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. All three studies should be viewed as preliminary, as they were presented at a medical meeting and not yet peer-reviewed.  This kind of information is of great importance in a country with an aging population.  People seeking knee replacement surgeries have significantly increased over the past 10 years.  It is time that we start looking at ways to deal with joint issues before reaching the point where replacement is the only viable option for people.

More information: To learn more about osteoarthritis, visit the American College of Rheumatology.

The complete article referred to in this piece can be found on USA Today.

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