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Osteoarthritis Claims Growing Number of Younger Victims
Date:5/26/2010

Intensive sports and exercise at young age may be the cause, experts say

WEDNESDAY, May 26 (HealthDay News) -- Osteoarthritis used to be thought of as an older person's condition.

The joint disease occurs over time as the cartilage between bones breaks down and wears away, allowing the bones to rub together and causing pain, swelling and loss of motion.

"If you live long enough, it's like death and taxes -- you will likely get osteoarthritis," said Dr. Todd Stitik, an associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

But these days, doctors have been seeing osteoarthritis more frequently in younger people, particularly osteoarthritis of the knee joints. Researchers are trying to figure out why.

The most promising avenues of study have tied early onset knee osteoarthritis to serious knee injuries, such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.

One study found that impact-related ligament tears inside the knee can play havoc on the surrounding cartilage cells. Impacts that were hard enough to tear ligaments but not fracture bone or cartilage still caused cartilage cells to die off in a cascade that reached well away from the impact zone.

"If you have injury to the cartilage, that can weaken the cartilage and make it less durable over time," said the study's lead author, Dr. Constance R. Chu, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh and director of its Cartilage Restoration Center. "What we're looking at is an impact injury that wasn't sufficient to fracture the cartilage, but I still would consider it a major impact."

The damage done to the cartilage cells by that type of injury would be invisible on a typical MRI scan, Chu said. Nonetheless, she guessed that about half of the people who sustain an ACL tear could develop osteoarthritis within five to 10 years. The findings
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