Medical Treatment and Autism: Tips For Success

Managing Osteoarthritis Of The Knees In Young Athletes

When most people think of sports injuries with young athletes, they think of acute problems, like a torn ligament or concussion. However, there are also young athletes in their teens who are being diagnosed with osteoarthritis, a condition formerly associated with older athletes and senior citizens. Here's a look at how sports medicine professionals are managing young patients with osteoarthritis of the knees, the joint that takes the bulk of abuse and impact in almost all sports.

Osteoarthritis in Young Athletes

It was formerly believed that osteoarthritis was mainly a disease of the middle aged to elderly population. Recent advances in medical imaging and arthroscopic surgery, however, have allowed clinicians to uncover a large percentage of young athletes who also show signs of arthritis: pain, swelling, joint locking, reduced mobility, weakness, and joint deterioration.

Why are so many young people experiencing these signs and symptoms? Kids are starting sports today at younger and younger ages, because the level of competition can be so tough. By the time they are in their teens, the pressure on elite athletes to perform at higher levels than previous generations can be tremendous. Just look at the degree of difficulty in Olympic sports like gymnastics or figure skating between ten years ago and today.

That high level of competitiveness can also lead to more acute injuries. It is now widely accepted that a history of acute injury puts athletes at risk of developing osteoarthritis. The younger the age at which the injury occurs, the younger arthritis can set in.

Palliative Measures

Doctors, physical therapists, and athletic trainers today take a three-pronged approach in treating osteoarthritis in young athletic knees. First, they use palliative measures to reduce or eliminate pain, so athletes can keep participating in the sports they love. This includes:

  • ice
  • heat
  • elevation after activitiy
  • knee braces and/or taping
  • low doses of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
  • massage therapy
  • acupuncture

Palliative measures may also include complementary activities to relieve joint pressure, such as light swimming, yoga, or Pilates.

Technique Modification

In some cases, teens need to modify their athletic technique somewhat to accommodate their arthritic condition. With today's high-tech video capabilities, even with mobile phones and tablets athletes can be filmed competing and working out to identify areas for change to reduce stress on joints or risk of future injury.

Athletes can also change their workouts to protect their knees. Adding appropriate stretching and strengthening the muscles around the knee, particularly the vastus complex (part of the quadriceps muscles in the front of the thigh), can offer help.

Sometimes athletes may even work with a sports psychologist to learn mental imagery methods to change habits. They may also keep journals that record symptom patterns related to overuse or certain movements.

Arthroscopic Surgery

The advent of arthroscopic surgery has allowed orthopedists to examine and treat knees surgically without the long downtime associated with older, more invasive procedures. They can debride the joint (wash it out, removing loose bits of cartilage, bone, and calcifications), shave and repair the meniscus (the cushion in the joint), and re-track the kneecap by releasing ligaments on the side of the knee.

The clinicians working with these young athletes have two goals in mind: to keep the competitors active in the sports they love and to keep joints healthy for a lifetime of activity. This three-tiered approach is proving to be highly successful and will likely remain the standard of care until a radical new approach to the management of osteoarthritis can be found. To find out more about sports injuries, speak with someone like Adult & Pediatric Orthopedics SC.