Most early onset osteoarthritis appears to be tied to exercise and sports. People are playing harder at younger ages and potentially doing themselves harm by not protecting their joints.
Another study, this one presented at the 2009 annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, found that people engaged in high levels of physical activity sustained more severe knee injuries, including such damage as fluid buildup in bone marrow and lesions on their cartilage and ligaments. Such injuries drastically increase the chances of developing osteoarthritis, according to the researchers.
Stitik cited as an example a college student he treated. She was in her early 20s, had been doing a lot of exercises, such as squats and lunges, that are hard on the knees, and she had been doing them improperly, he said.
"An MRI showed arthritic changes already taking place under her kneecap," Stitik said. "She was doing exercises improperly and was overdoing it. She was with a personal trainer and also exercising on her own -- just doing too much."
However, Chu suspects there also is a connection between early onset osteoarthritis and the growing obesity epidemic.
"If someone is overweight or obese, they put more stress on cartilage that has been weakened by injury," she said. "It is chronic overload [and] a very likely cause of osteoarthritis."
People who injure a knee should approach their recovery with great care if they want to reduce their chances of osteoarthritis, Chu said.
"Give the joint some time to recover," she said. "How long, we don't really know -- but for sure until any pain or swelling goes away. Then they should gradually return to their activity."
Active adults can better protect their knees from injury by strengthening their thigh and leg muscles through exercise, Chu said. These m
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