High levels of physical activity can lead to knee osteoarthritis

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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For middle age men and women, too much exercise, especially high impact activities, can lead to painful knee osteoarthritis. According to findings from the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), too much physical activity can damage knee cartilage.

The findings are based on a study of 236 participants with no symptoms of osteoarthritis or complaints of knee pain. The group was part of the National Institutes of Health Osteoarthritis Initiative and included 136 women and 100 men, age 45 to 55.

The group was separated by activity levels. High levels of physical activity that was found to lead to knee damage and osteoarthritis included several hours of walking, household chores, sports, or outdoor activities such as yard work.

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MRI was used to gauge the effect of high levels of physical activity on knee joints. The researchers found meniscal lesions, cartilage lesions, bone marrow edema and ligament lesions among the study participants who consistently engaged in high levels of physical activity. Men and women were equally affected, and the findings did not vary with age.

According to 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, "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.”

Osteoarthritis affects is the most common form of arthritis that causes pain, swelling and knee stiffness. According to background information from the study, osteoarthritis affects 27 million American adults. The condition causes degeneration of the knee joint, and is now linked to too much physical activity during middle age.

The researchers suggest that activities such as running and jumping can increase the chances of osteoarthritis of the knee. Exercises that can preserve knee health include swimming and cycling. Tai Chi has also been shown to help symptoms of osteoarthritis. More research is needed to see if low impact exercises can halt the progression of osteoarthritis of the knee.

RSNA News Release

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