Injuries of Youth May Lead to Elderly Aches
Sept. 5, 2000 -- Not only the follies, but also the falls, of youth may come back to haunt you.
A new study shows that people with joint injuries early in life are more likely to get arthritis down the road. The researchers suggest that these people may need to take special measures to keep from aggravating their joints.
Osteoarthritis, or wear and tear arthritis, is a condition that leads to pain, swelling, and stiffness of the joints. Its causes are unknown, but it usually occurs in older people. The smooth lining, or cartilage, of the joint becomes cracked and begins to break and flake away. As the cartilage gets worse, the bone underneath is affected and can become very thick and distorted. Movement causes pain, which eventually may become severe enough to interfere with everyday activities.
To find out if injuries at a young age contribute to the development of arthritis at an older age, study author Allan C. Gelber, MD, MPH, PhD, and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, studied more than 1,300 people, almost all of whom were men. They followed them for about 40 years from their early 20s until their 60s.
By the time the participants were 65 years old, almost 14% of the people who had a knee or hip injury had developed arthritis, compared to only 6% of those without a history of an injury.
Those with past knee injuries were five times more likely to develop arthritis of the knee than those without injury; those with past hip injuries were more than three times more likely to develop arthritis of the hip. The results appear in the Sept. 5 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
"Our findings strongly demonstrate that adolescents and young adults with traumatic injury to the knee joint, as well as persons with knee and hip injuries incurred during middle age, are at substantially increased risk for osteoarthritis at the same joint later in life," Gelber writes. "Such persons constitute a high-risk group and are an ideal population to target for primary prevention of osteoarthritis."
People who do have injuries in early adulthood need to be careful that they don't strain their joints, that they use exercise equipment properly, and that, most importantly, they listen to their bodies when they are tired, says Edward Collacot, MD.
"Joint-stabilizing braces may be warranted in the worst cases. Otherwise, telling these guys to take it easy as far as physical exercise might not be the most effective thing, but it needs to be said again and again in hopes that when they get old enough, they will listen to you, and help to minimize the damage that could occur in the future," he tells WebMD.
Even though Collacot, a clinician at the VA Medical Center in Prescott, Ariz., strongly urges caution while exercising, he still stresses that regular exercise and losing weight can help prevent problems.