Knee Osteoarthritis Is Focus Of UI Research

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Knee osteoarthritis is a leading cause of disability in the United States and affects more than 10 million Americans. Both increased age and increased obesity are risk factors for the condition.

Because the number of people affected by this condition will likely increase in the future, University of Iowa Health Care experts are working to reverse the trend.

"One of the frustrating things about osteoarthritis is that we don't really know what causes it or how to cure it, and yet it is one of the biggest medical problems affecting our society," said Neil Segal, M.D., associate professor of orthopaedics and rehabilitation in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and an orthopedist with UI Hospitals and Clinics.

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"I don't think anyone has shown it is possible to reverse the cartilage deterioration caused by osteoarthritis," said Segal, who has studied the condition since 1998. "However, studies suggest that the pain and immobility associated with the condition can be reduced with exercise, physical therapy and other interventions."

Segal and his colleagues are investigating several potential rehabilitation strategies to reduce pain and improve mobility for individuals with painful and/or stiff knees, including gait training and aquatic power training.

The gait analysis experiments use several advanced technologies to calculate the forces being exerted on the knees as a person walks. These technologies allow the researchers to determine how changing a person's gait can alter and potentially reduce those forces.

"As a rehabilitation physician, I am really focused on human function and although we can't prevent osteoarthritis, we can improve people's physical function," Segal said.

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