Athletes aren’t just considered the people we watch at games or on television but an emerging generation of people who refuse to succumb to a sedentary lifestyle as they get older; the 80-year-old gentleman who still cycles 10 miles a day; the 76-year-old lady who likes to climb Croagh Patrick; the 69-year-old who enjoys completing the Dublin marathon every year.
With ageing, various changes occur within the articular cartilage that lines the surfaces of joints. Arthritis produces quite different changes; water content increases and other collagens and proteins decrease. Rather than offering a histology lesson, this serves to show that arthritis is not the inevitable consequence of getting older. We should look at arthritis like any other disease that can be successfully addressed if and when it starts interfering with your normal activities or your quality of life.
With regard to the knee, various options are potentially available depending on the problem. A total knee replacement replaces the entire joint but sometimes it is possible to replace only a portion of the joint, a partial knee replacement. These are generally smaller operations with a quicker recovery time and usually a more normal feeling knee afterwards. Return to certain sporting activities is also more likely – swimming, cycling and even things like doubles tennis are fine but most surgeons recommend avoiding prolonged jogging. In general, surgery makes it more rather than less likely to return to activities.
New and improving technology also allows us to insert a knee replacement more accurately so that not only is the leg straightened in a more natural way but it should also feel more stable. This is known as computer navigation and I now routinely use it for all my knee replacement surgeries.
Also, we know that weight-bearing exercise is actually good for joint surfaces. Think of the cartilage-like a sponge that fills and empties its water content with each step and this allows nutrients to flow within it. It also has the advantages of increasing bone density and thus avoiding osteoporosis and also stronger leg muscles are strongly associated with maintaining independence as we get even older.
So get out and about and enjoy your hobbies again and if your hip or knee is stopping you from doing that, maybe it’s time to get it seen about.
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