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What Every Athlete Should Know About Knee Arthritis

Author: Rosemary Buckle, M.D.

Did you know that two million of the 14 million knee arthritis sufferers in the U.S. are under the age of 45? That’s right – arthritis isn’t just something that happens to “older” people. Many young patients, especially athletes whose joints are subject to increased stress, wear and tear, are being diagnosed with arthritis.

A new infographic from Mayo Clinic provides valuable information on the effects of sports and arthritis on athletes’ knees. Let’s take a closer look at the findings below…

Arthritis Fast Facts

    • Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage on the end of bones wears down.
    • It is surprisingly common among younger athletes.
    • Certain knee injuries increase the change of arthritis 10-20 years later, regardless of age at injury.
    • 80% of injured football players have arthritis 10-30 years later.
    • 50% of patients who damage a ligament or meniscus will develop arthritis 10-20 years later.

Knee arthritis for athletes increases with…

    • Higher body mass
    • Frequency of high-speed impacts
    • History of knee injuries

What Are the Effects of Repeated Impacts?

The knee’s anatomy makes it especially prone to damage during practice and play of impact sports. For example, under normal use circumstances (like walking), weight and pressure loads are gradually added to the knee. Fluids within the cartilage help redistribute and cushion the knee tissue as those loads increase and decrease with every step.

In high impact sports, however, the knee works a little bit differently. Heavy loads are suddenly added to the knee, and the knee fluids are unable to redistribute quickly enough to offer effective cushioning.

Young? Athletic? What Can You Do About Knee Arthritis?

Catching arthritis of the knee early can potentially lead to significantly better outcomes, as less invasive treatments (like surgery) may be effective at this time. It’s possible that by getting knee arthritis checked out and treated early on you could add years of activity to your life. Some young athletes with knee arthritis are candidates for…

    • Physical therapy
    • Bracing
    • Orthobiologic/regenerative medicine injections

Other options may include joint preservation treatments, such as…

    • Meniscus repair or transplantation
    • Cartilage restoration with cells or grafts
    • Limb realignment

Finally, knee replacement surgery is sometimes an option – yes, even for younger, active patients! During a knee replacement surgery, the ends of the bones are replaced with metal, and a high-density plastic is inserted to act as the “cartilage” in the knee. Knee replacement surgery is often associated with excellent outcomes and full range of motion.

Schedule With a Houston Sports Medicine Doctor

To learn more about caring for knee arthritis, contact a Houston sports medicine physician. You can schedule an appointment at Houston Institute for Sports Medicine & Orthopedics by calling (713) 756-5546.

Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.