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Young people suffer from arthritis too

October 9, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Doctors say they're seeing younger patients coming into their offices complaining of stiffness and painful joints. Why so many young arthritis patients? One possible reason: an increase in sports injuries.Pro athletes like Pete Rose, Ken Griffey and LeBron James know injury is just part of the game. But when Todd Bonnell was playing high school basketball, he couldn't have imagined how an injury would change his life.

"I started my senior year in high school with a torn meniscus," said Todd.

By the time he was in his early 20s, doctors said he had arthritis.

"We just had the MRI and saw the arthritis, I guess," said Todd.

He undergoes extensive physical therapy. Doctors say he's not alone.

"What we're seeing now is more secondary arthritis, and that's arthritis due to an injury and surgical procedures," said orthopedic surgeon Dr. Timothy Kremchek.

Dr. Kremchek says osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and it's exploding in young people.

"I've seen children under the age of 10 that have had traumatic arthritic changes," said Dr. Kremchek.

One study found nearly 70 percent of ACL injuries in young athletes will lead to early osteoarthritis. Causes include joint overuse, poor technique and improper use of equipment. Physical therapy is a common treatment.

But increasingly, doctors are using injections to lubricate the joints and a surgical procedure called arthroscopy.

"And, that's making two small little poke holes and arthroscoping, cleaning out the knee," said Dr. Kremchek.

Dr. Kremchek says the idea is to help young people maintain their active lifestyles.

Todd says golf can hurt his knees more than basketball, but he isn't willing to give up either yet. He's too young.

Web Extra Information:

BACKGROUND:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the word "arthritis" actually means joint inflammation. It is a label for more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that affect joints, the tissues that surround joints and other connective tissue. Typically, rheumatic conditions are characterized by pain and stiffness in and around one or more joints. The symptoms can develop gradually or suddenly. Certain rheumatic conditions can also involve the immune system and other internal organs of the body.

NOT JUST A PROBLEM FOR THE OLD:

When you think of arthritis, you probably think of it affecting mostly older individuals. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 300,000 children have been diagnosed with arthritis. Doctors believe there are thousands of unreported cases as well.

Children and young adults may be less able to describe their symptoms, which may lead to a delayed diagnosis. Parents may attribute the symptoms to "growing pains." However, an early diagnosis may be important in preventing joint damage and the deterioration of cartilage.

SECONDARY ARTHRITIS:

Timothy Kremchek, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon from Beacon Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Cincinnati, says he is seeing more cases of "secondary arthritis" in young people.

This type of arthritis can develop after an injury or a surgical procedure. According to the University of Michigan Health System, nearly 70 percent of ACL injuries in young athletes will lead to an early onset of osteoarthritis.

Each year, about one out of 3,000 people will suffer an ACL injury. While the injury is most common among children and teens, young female athletes are at greatest risk. Doctors typically treat secondary arthritis with physical therapy, injections and a surgical procedure called arthroscopy. They say they try to avoid performing joint replacement surgery on patients so young.


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