Excessive physical activity and exercise may lead to knee osteoarthritis

Middle-aged men and women who engage in high levels of physical activity may be unknowingly causing damage to their knees and increasing their risk for osteoarthritis.

The study is presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that causes pain, swelling and stiffness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and affects an estimated 27 million American adults.

Researchers involved 236 participants with subsequent MRI analysis by two musculoskeletal radiologists indicated a relationship between physical activity levels and frequency and severity of knee damage. Specific knee abnormalities identified included meniscal lesions, cartilage lesions, bone marrow edema and ligament lesions. Abnormalities were associated solely with activity levels and were not age or gender specific.

“The prevalence of the knee abnormalities increased with the level of physical activity,” Dr. Stehling said. “In addition, cartilage defects diagnosed in active people were more severe.”

“Our data suggest that people with higher physical activity levels may be at greater risk for developing knee abnormalities and, thus, at higher risk for developing osteoarthritis,” said Christoph Stehling, M.D., research fellow in the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and radiology resident in the Department of Clinical Radiology, University of Muenster, Germany.

The findings also indicated that some activities carry a greater risk of knee damage over time. “This study and previous studies by our group suggest that high-impact, weight-bearing physical activity, such as running and jumping, may be worse for cartilage health,” Dr. Stehling said. “Conversely, low-impact activities, such as swimming and cycling, may protect diseased cartilage and prevent healthy cartilage from developing disease.”

Source: Radiological Society of North America, USA

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