knee injury and arthritis

Link established between knee injury in early adulthood and onset of arthritis

If you’ve indulged in any long-term sporting activity, you’ve taken your fair share of knocks. And that’s OK when you’re younger – the body can take it, and damage can be healed. But are they storing up a welter of problems in later life?

According to a recent study conducted in Sweden, they probably are: the study, which was released at the end of last year, contends that young adults who have had knee injuries are much more likely to develop arthritis in the knee by middle age than their uninjured peers, especially if they have broken bones or torn connective tissue.

Six times more likely to suffer knee OA

The study, conducted by the researchers at the Lund University, analysed the data of almost 150,000 adults ages 25 to 34 – 5,200 of which with a history of knee injuries for almost two decades. Their findings? Compared to the people who never had knee injuries, those who did were nearly six times as likely to develop knee osteoarthritis during the first 11 years of follow-up, with more than triple the risk over the next eight years.

We already know certain risk factors that bring about osteoarthritis: they include being overweight, older, female or having a job that puts a lot of stress on the joints. When it comes to a history of knee injuries, however, the picture is muddier; we know it’s a risk factor, but we’re currently not sure whether certain types of injuries might be more likely to lead to osteoarthritis than others.

The research findings have helped to clear the waters a little. After 19 years of follow-up examinations, 422 of the study group who suffered from knee injuries (11.3%) went on to develop knee osteoarthritis. Compare this to the 2,854 (or 4%) of people without a history of knee injury who went on to develop knee osteoarthritis.

A matter of balance

Why is this? According to study leader Barbara Snoeker, it’s a matter of balance – or lack of it. “Injuries that occur inside the knee joint, for example in the meniscus or anterior cruciate ligament, may alter the biomechanical loading patterns in the knee,” she claimed. “Such injuries may lead to an ‘imbalance’ in force transmissions inside the knee joint, consequently overloading the joint cartilage and leading to increased risk of developing osteoarthritis, compared to injuries that mainly affect the outside of the knee joint, such as contusions.”

While medical experts around the world have already picked holes in the study – pointing out limitations such as a lack of data on patient’s body mass index (BMI), and how patients were rehabbed after their procedures – it’s clear that people who have suffered from knee injuries in early adulthood need to be looked at with a weather eye as they progress into middle age. Clearly, the quality of rehab that young athletes are receiving is a key factor – but so are lifestyle choices which are out of the hands of the medical community.