Knee Cartilage Damage Raises Osteoarthritis Risk

A recent study of middle-aged and elderly patients showed that damage to the cushioning cartilage in the knee can often lead to osteoarthritis. The cartilage is known as the meniscus. Actually, there are two menisci, one on the inside of the knee and one on the outside. These tough, resilient, wedge-shaped cushions protect the thigh bone (femur) and main shin bone (tibia) from damaging one another and properly distribute the load of the body onto the joint.

The study appeared in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism, and was done by Martin Englund, of Boston University School of Medicine and Lund University Hospital in Sweden, and colleagues.“Meniscal damage often is a key player in the development of knee osteoarthritis, whether or not meniscal surgery is performed,” Englund said.
   
For the 30-month study, the researchers chose nearly 450 people between the ages of 50 and 79. Their purpose was to explore the connection between meniscal damage and the development of osteoarthritis.
   
The research team discovered that patients who suffered minor meniscal tears had three times the likelihood of developing knee osterarthritis than those with no meniscal damage. Patients who had experienced more severe meniscal damage had eight times the likelihood of developing an arthritic knee.
   
The findings, according to the researchers, strongly suggest that meniscal tear “is a potent structural risk factor” for the development of osteoarthritis.

“Please keep in mind that it is often not the meniscal tear that is causing the patient discomfort,” Englund said. “Other processes or structures related to early knee osteoarthritis development are more likely the source.”

Dr. Thomas Murray, an orthopedic surgeon in Portland, Maine, comments on the research stating, “Because the meniscus has minimal blood supply, its ability to heal when torn is limited.  In younger patients and in certain tear patterns, suture repair of the tear may be possible.  However, for the great majority of tears in adults, tears are not likely to heal even if repair is attempted.” 

According to Dr. Thomas Robertson, a chiropractor in Maryland, “Most joint pain actually comes from the surrounding muscle tissue. When properly treated and regularly stretched (and stimulated through exercise), this muscle pain can be dramatically reduced and the motion of the knee can start to be retrained.”


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