Knee Arthritis Striking at a Younger Age

According to recent research, knee osteoarthritis (OA) is striking patients at a younger age. Dr. Elena Losina, who headed up the study is quoted as saying, “The diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis is occurring much earlier. The average age at diagnosis has moved from 69 to 56,” when she compared the age at diagnosis in the 1990s to ages in the 2010s.

Is this surprising? Not exactly. I think there could be a couple reasons we are seeing younger patients with this diagnosis. First of all, technology has improved. We can now capture more high-quality imaging through MRIs and X-rays than we could have 20 years ago. There’s a chance we are simply seeing more arthritis. Secondly, technology has improved. By that I mean that we, as a society, are much more sedentary then we were 20 years ago. Technology has made it a lot easier for us to not move, and our body abides by the “use it or lose it” rule. When we decrease or eliminate motion, the body adapts accordingly. It either says, “Well…must not need that motion/movement anymore,” so it shuts it down completely. Or it says, “Haven’t done that motion in a long time…don’t really remember how to do it…gotta compensate through it.” With the latter, the motion is still being done, but not efficiently and not functionally. Either way, you’re in trouble.

This is key because arthritis can only survive in an environment that is deprived of oxygen–i.e. a joint lacking full ROM. The arthritis in your shoulder joint, for example, is due to the fact that your shoulder position is compromised. It isn’t moving like it’s designed to move, and arthritis has set up shop there. Classic “use-it-or-lose-it” case.

Dr. Losina suggests that weight might be playing an issue, however I disagree. The vast majority of clients we see with OA have more pain in one knee than they do in the other. If that’s the case, is one knee fatter than the other? In addition, what’s the “magic” weight when OA kicks in? Two hundred pounds…300 pounds….120 pounds…417 pounds?

The study also suggests that OA is linked to sports. However, if that’s true, ALL participants of that sport–running, wrestling, soccer, and weight lifting are all mentioned in the article–should have OA, regardless of their level of play…

And regardless of their weight. I think it’s interesting that you have a higher risk of OA if you’re really active, or really fat. Aren’t those two somewhat mutually exclusive? Generally speaking, someone who plays soccer frequently most likely isn’t obese. I realize I’m generalizing, but let’s stop and thing about it for a second.

Thankfully they did quote a doctor who doesn’t believe there is a “sport played = OA” link:

However, a sports medicine specialist took issue with that suggestion. “There is no evidence that impact sports like running causes arthritis in a healthy knee,” said Dr. Stephen Nicholas, director of the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City.

Like other experts, he does agree that once a knee injury occurs, a person is at higher risk for knee arthritis.

However, if someone has a healthy knee, Nicholas said he would tell them to pick the sport they enjoy.

Finally! Someone is suggesting that your knees are designed to be used! What a novel concept!

The answer to all of this is simple: position, not condition. We have to stay focused on the position of the knee rather than the condition of the person whose knee it is. The knee pain is simply the body’s way of alerting you that something isn’t quite right. Listen to it and address the cause, and you’ll be fine. Ignore it and merely treat the symptom, and you’re in trouble. 

QUESTION: What’s your take on the “latest research”? Is it beneficial…or bogus?