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Health Information Unraveling the Mystery of Osteoarthritis

It doesn't matter if you're a man or woman, which race you belong to or how athletic you are: If you have joints, you are at risk for osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis--also referred to as degenerative joint disease or wear-and-tear arthritis--is caused by the breakdown in one or more components of cartilage, the cushiony substance between the bones of joints. When there is cartilage loss, a joint can become bone-on-bone, which is extremely painful and debilitating. Osteoarthritis is mostly a consequence of aging, as the water content of cartilage decreases while the protein composition changes. Other factors that may increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis include injury to joints, repetitive use of joints, being overweight, stressing the joints and family history.

According to the latest data from the National Arthritis Data Workgroup,* nearly 27 million people are affected by osteoarthritis. And that number is expected to grow by leaps and bounds over the next decade.

Thats why researchers from the world renowned osteoarthritis research program at Rush University Medical Center are committed to learning more about osteoarthritis and finding better ways to prevent and treat it. They recently received support for their efforts from the charitable foundation of the National Football League, NFL Charities, which awarded Rush a $125,000 grant to study how damage to the articular cartilage can lead to osteoarthritis.

Participation in sports--especially high impact sports such as football, basketball, soccer and tennis--increases the risk of joint injuries that can lead to posttraumatic osteoarthritis. Posttraumatic osteoarthritis develops when the articular cartilage, the cartilage that caps the ends of bones at the joints, wears away causing pain and the destruction of the entire joint.

Researchers at Rush, led by Susan Chubinskaya, PhD, professor of biochemistry, are studying the cellular responses that lead to molecular, biochemical and structural changes in cartilage after acute injuries. "We need to identify the factors that cause cartilage injuries to become early osteoarthritis in order to develop therapies that can prevent or delay the onset of the disease," says Chubinskaya.

The health benefits of such therapies would be significant: faster healing of the injury, quicker return to normal function and participation in sports, fewer days with disability, and prevention or delay of surgery.

"This grant is especially meaningful because it is the first grant awarded by NFL Charities to Rush, and funding for basic science research is limited. It will also help to set the stage for larger studies to be funded by the National Institutes of Health," says Chubinskaya. "The findings from our studies will potentially help not only football players, but the many physically active people who suffer posttraumatic osteoarthritis due to injury."

*The National Arthritis Data Workgroup provides a single source of national data for various rheumatic conditions. The workgroup is supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of Rheumatology, and the Arthritis Foundation. Experts use the data--derived from census reports, national surveys, and community-based studies--to define disease prevalence, potential impact of disease, disease rates, populations and social implications.

More Information at Your Fingertips:
  • Learn about the latest treatment options for joint preservation of the hip and knee from leaders in orthopedic treatment and research at a free Rush wellness event on Saturday, March 20, 9 to 11 a.m. For more information or to register, call (888) 352-RUSH (7874).
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (888 352-7874)
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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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