First of all, we are talking about very long distance running, 2,800 miles, to be more precise. That’s the length of the Trans Europe Foot Race, a two-month long endurance test during which researchers used an MRI truck to scan the joints and brains of competing athletes every three or four days. What did they find? Unsurprisingly, the constant running caused significant deterioration of cartilage in knee, ankle and hind-foot joints in the first 900 to 1,550 miles of the race. Perhaps more surprising, the researchers also found that the runners had lost about 6 percent of their brain’s gray matter by the end of the race. The good news, HealthDay reports, is that both the cartilage and the gray matter appear to regenerate, returning to normal within eight months.
If your knees make disturbing popping sounds when you squat, New York Times’ health answer man Anahad O’Connor can tell you what to do about it: nothing. That’s right, nothing. Writing in the Times, O’Connor reports that “the crackling or popping sound you hear is known as crepitus. In some cases, it may be nothing more than bubbles of gas popping in your joints. It can also result from the cartilage in your knees losing their smoothness, causing bones and tissue to rub together noisily when you bend your legs.” That’s the good news. The bad news is that if your knees also hurt, and/or lock up with the strange noises, you could have a meniscus tear, and may want to consult an orthopedic expert. Also, according to O’Connor’s chosen expert, Dr. Michael Stuart, a professor of orthopedic surgery and co-director of sports medicine at the Mayo Clinic, crunching or grinding when you perform a squat may be associated with arthritis–another reason to talk to a doctor. The take away? Popping without pain is just noise. Popping with pain means it’s time to talk to an expert.
Got a knee that won’t stop giving you pain? Don’t waste your time with acupuncture. According to researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia, the therapy does little for knee pain in the short term and it does nothing in the long term. Science Daily reports that the researchers treated 300 adults with chronic knee pain either with needle acupuncture, laser acupuncture (hitting acupuncture spots with a low-intensity laser beam), sham laser acupuncture, or no treatment at all (the “control” group). The pained subjects, who were given 20-minute sessions up to twice a week for three months, filled out questionnaires about their knee pain at the start of the study, three months later and one year later. The envelope please…. After three months, participants receiving needle, laser and sham acupuncture all experienced similar reductions in knee pain while walking, compared to the control group. That pain improvement was gone at a year, however, and the short-term improvements were deemed too small to make a significant difference in practice.
Looking for the best surgeon to repair a torn meniscus? Four million people do that every year. Yet now comes research from McMaster University that suggests they should stop looking and start physical therapy. A McMaster news release reports that researchers at the school reviewed seven studies involving 805 patients (average age 56) that looked at the success of surgical repairs of partial meniscus tears. What did they find? The envelope please…four of the studies found no short-term pain relief in the first six months after surgery for patients with some osteoarthritis; five studies found no improvement in long-term function up to two years after the surgery. The researchers’ conclusion: middle-aged or older patients with mild or no osteoarthritis of the knee may not benefit from the procedure of arthroscopic knee surgery.
Strange but true, or at least suggested by a recent study: milk may slow the progression of knee arthritis in women. HealthDay reports that researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have found that the more low-fat or fat-free milk women drank, the slower the progression of osteoarthritis of the knee. The same benefit was not true for yogurt and cheese, and there was no correlation between milk and arthritis found for men. The research, published in Arthritis Care & Research, involved 1,260 women and almost 900 men with knee arthritis. Scientists tracked the subjects diets and assessed the condition of their knees at the start of the study and again 12, 24, 36 and 48 months later. No, the researchers aren’t sure why milk slows arthritis. As they say, “more research is needed.”
Writing in the New York Times, Gretchen Reynolds claims that proper warm-up exercises have been shown to reduce ACL tears by 50 percent. What exercises? Well, for starters, there are the exercises in the video below.
Question one: what is the most common orthopedic surgery in the United States? If you answered “meniscus repair,” you are correct. Question two: does it work? If you answered “no better than no surgery at all” you are also correct. The New York Times reports on a Finnish study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that found that the popular surgery, done about 700,000 times a year, worked no better than a fake operation. The Times reports that the study, which involved 146 patients ages 35 to 65 with wear-induced tears and knee pain, does not show that surgery never helps; it suggests that it is useful for younger patients and for tears from acute sports injuries, but less effective for the 80 percent of tears that develop from wear and aging. The Times reports that the volunteer patients in the Finnish study all received anesthesia and incisions, but some received actual surgery, others simulated procedures. One year later, most patients in both groups said their knees felt better, and the vast majority said they would choose the same method again, even if it was fake. Read more in the New York Times.
Chillax. Your knees will be fine. That’s the message from University of North Carolina researchers to people who exercise up to two and a half hours a week. A university news release reports that the researchers, who analyzed data from more than 1,500 people age 45 and older, found that those who did moderate exercise–up to two and a half hours a week– did not increase their risk of developing knee osteoarthritis over a 6-year period. The study also found that people who did the most exercise- up to 5 hours a week – did have a slightly higher risk of knee osteoarthritis, but the difference was not statistically significant. Read more from the University of North Carolina.
Researchers aren’t blaming the surgeons, but they are saying that athletes who have anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction surgery are six times more likely to suffer another ACL injury within two years than someone who has never had such an injury. HealthDay reports that researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital ran the numbers in a study of 59 females and 19 males, aged 10 to 25, who underwent ACL reconstruction and returned to sports, and in a control group of 47 people who had never suffered an ACL injury. After two years, the researchers found that 23 of those in the reconstruction group and four of the people in the control group had suffered an ACL injury. Overall, 29.5 percent of athletes suffered a second ACL injury within two years of returning to sports, with 9 percent re-injuring the same knee and 20.5 percent suffering an injury to the opposite knee. Within the ACL reconstruction group, females were twice as likely as males to suffer an injury to the opposite knee. Read more from HealthDay.
OK, in this piece in the New York Times, Gretchen Reynolds doesn’t actually tell us how to strengthen knees, but she does tell us how to strengthen the muscles around knees, which is the best we can hope for. Squats are a no-brainer, easy to do and great for knees, and Reynolds also recommends straight leg lifts. The big value in this piece, however, is the accompanying video, which demonstrates four exercises that can stabilize less than stable knees.