University of Calgary study links knee damage to osteoarthritis

A new University of Calgary study has linked a common sports injury with osteoarthritis.

The two-year study by the Faculty of Kinesiology focused on torn menisci — an injury that plagues many athletes.

The Arthritis Alliance of Canada estimates osteoarthritis will cost Canadians $550 billion in health care costs over the next 30 years, affecting more than 4.4 million Canadians.

By using a custom-built, $1.5-million microscope, researchers studied what impact removing the damaged ligament has on the joint.


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Dr. Walter Herzog — a professor at the Faculty of Kinesiology — said doctors have known for years that removing the meniscus could cause issues down the road but that this study shines a light on how the damage is done.

“Taking out the meniscus on its own was associated with an enormous amount of cell death,” Herzog said. “We could see the cells dying as the experiment was going on.”

The study points to cell death as being the reason for knee deterioration and an increased risk of osteoarthritis.

Dr. Ziad Abusara co-published the study and said the rate of cell death during the hours following physical activity was staggering.

“It was surprising how quickly the cells died when the meniscus was removed,” Abusara said. “Half of the cells which make and maintain the components of the knee cartilage were dead within four hours.”

Abusara said the next step is to find out why the cells die so quickly, with the ultimate goal of preventing or even reversing the damage.

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