Increased instances of arthritic knees maybe not due to just “wear and tear”

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Increased instances of arthritic knees maybe not due to just “wear and tear”

Lynn Millar, PT, PhD, FACSM |  Aug. 18, 2017

We certainly know that knee pain is not a new phenomenon, but are people today living lifestyles that make it more common?

Recently a study was published suggesting that the incidence of arthritis has doubled since before the 1950s. In follow-up, another researcher examined bones from museums and medical schools, and the findings also suggested an increase.

While these stats may appear shocking, I think it is important to point out a few important factors:

  • The population has expanded tremendously since prior to the 1950s

  • The average age has increased

  • Obesity has become a national epidemic

The researchers said that even when correcting for body mass and age, there was still a large increase. This led the researchers to consider lifestyle factors.

I have several thoughts related to this: Could it be that some of the changes are simply diagnosis – perhaps fewer individuals went to the doctor for knee pain prior to 1950, as they did not think there was anything abnormal about an increase in joint pain with aging? Knee replacement was not the go-to option in the early part of the 1900s, and medication options (and pain tolerance levels) have changed significantly since then. My grandmother told me knee and hip pain was a part of life!

I agree with Drs. Richard Loeser and Lieberman that lack of activity may be a culprit of increased instances of arthritis. There has been a shift away from active careers toward sedentary desk jobs.

Our bodies were not made to sit all of the time. 

As research has demonstrated time after time, exercise reduces arthritis pain and decreases the inflammation associated with arthritis. This seems to reinforce the need for motion and activity across the lifespan. It is true that injury is very predictive of the development of arthritis. However, I believe the benefits of regular exercise far outweigh the risk. One of the first components of therapy for someone with arthritis is exercise – a focus on strengthening muscles around the joint and increasing activity.

Thus, I suggest that the focus should be on getting up and moving!

Lynn Millar has taught in Physical Therapy since 1987. Lynn has been active conducting and supervising research in diverse areas of physical therapy. While specialized in Exercise Physiology, she has expanded her expertise into Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and arthritis throughout the years. She has published numerous articles and presented regularly at the state, regional and national level. In addition to research articles, Lynn has authored several chapters related to arthritis, and one book, Action Plan for Arthritis. Lynn has been active in the American College of Sports Medicine, serving on regional and national committees.