Arthritis causes inflammation in one or more joints and disease progression causes the cushion layer between the bones or cartilage to wear away. Inflammation, if untreated, leads to chronic joint pain, swelling, bone spurs and mobility problems. Osteoarthritis (OA) is caused by aging joints, injury, and obesity and one commonly affected area is the knee. According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than 52.5 million US adults have knee arthritis and nearly 1 in 2 people have the chance of developing the condition by age 85.
Knee arthritis can significantly affect a person’s ability to perform routine activities such as walking, climbing stairs, getting in and out of a car, lifting and carrying things, all activities necessary to lead an independent life. Early detection allows early intervention which can limit damage to the cartilage and thereby help decrease chronic pain and disability.
A new study conducted by the researchers at the Northwestern University found that a knee MRI can identify the warning signs of knee osteoarthritis in people who have normal X-rays. The results of the study were published in the Journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.
The researchers evaluated a total of 849 people, (with an average age of 60 years) who showed no evidence of arthritis in any knee in X-rays, but were at high risk due to factors such as being overweight or having a history of knee injuries. Cartilage damage, bone marrow lesions and meniscus tears were assessed on MRI scan images taken three years apart. It was found that if the MRIs displayed worsening damage during that time, the patients were at increased risk of developing knee arthritis or symptoms such as pain, stiffness or swelling.
The researchers noted that depending on the type of lesion revealed by MRI, the risk of developing knee arthritis within three years was three to 20 times greater. By revealing the worsening lesions which are an early warning sign, the MRI enables early intervention before the person develops the debilitating disease. They suggest that employing aggressive prevention strategies for persons with such lesions would significantly help to delay the development of the disease or alter its course. The preventive measures include weight control and reducing strenuous physical activity.