Can We Prevent Post-Injury Knee Osteoarthritis?

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Active lifestyles are great for heart health, stress management, and weight loss. But they can also be a contributing factor to joint injuries. Later in life, these injuries can lead to osteoarthritis (OA).

For example, about half of those who sustain an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, one of the more common serious joint injuries, develop early knee OA within 10 years. Chronic knee pain from knee OA makes routine tasks like climbing stairs or shopping for groceries more difficult. The high rate of early OA in younger, active adults has led to an increase in knee replacement surgeries among Americans aged 20-49 years.

Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) are aiming to identify changes occurring after a knee injury that could be early warning signs of OA. Led by Elizabeth Wellsandt, PhD, DPT, associate professor in the UNMC Physical Therapy Program, the study’s ultimate goal is to develop and offer clinical tools that clinicians can use to identify OA risk very early after a knee injury, then intervene as appropriate to prevent irreversible joint damage and/or the need for surgery.

“Years after ACL injury, it’s not uncommon for patients to have lingering or increasing knee symptoms such as pain, swelling, or decreased knee function,” Dr. Wellsandt said. “We believe this is a critical time to understand how we can improve our care to focus not only on the short-term goals of getting people safely and successfully back to the lifestyles they prefer, but also on the longer-term goal of keeping their knees healthy as they age.”

The Foundation provided critical support for this ambitious study, allowing Dr. Wellsandt to establish a team of collaborators at UNMC including physical therapy, orthopedic surgery, radiology, engineering, athletic training, rheumatology, and epidemiology. The team’s initial findings enabled them to successfully obtain government funding from the NIH.

“This large, longitudinal project is benefiting from the generous support of the Foundation, and our team appreciates the Foundation’s awareness that arthritis is a critical and unmet need in sports medicine,” Dr. Wellsandt said. “Our results could create new opportunities to prevent a debilitating disease with no current cure, and help patients live active and healthy lifestyles despite suffering a knee injury when they are young.”

 The support for this critical work is only possible through the generosity of individuals like yourself. To invest in the future of rheumatology visit