The Aging Athlete: Arthritis is Joint Inflammation

By Dr. Stephen Faust

Joints are formed where two bones meet, allowing for movement and flexibility. In healthy joints, the ends of the bones are covered by a smooth, very slippery substance called cartilage. Cartilage allows a normal joint to move smoothly and painlessly. The average person takes a million steps a year, while a very active person may take five times that. Over time, those millions of steps wear down the cartilage, first causing rough spots that may grind or catch, and eventually wearing it away completely, exposing the underlying bone. We call this condition “bone on bone,” and it is almost always causes pain, stiffness and swelling. At first, the affected joint may be painful only with strenuous activity, but eventually pain may occur with daily living activities, at rest, or at night causing sleep disturbance.

Injuries to the knee can include tears of the ligaments, meniscus or fibrous cushion inside the joint, and may accelerate this process. The knees are the largest joints in the body, and are formed by the two longest bones. Little wonder the knees often go first. Athletes know this very well, and many famous athletes such as Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas have undergone knee replacements.

This is a very successful and common operation; over 500,000 are performed every year in the U.S. Fortunately, there are other treatments that may be effective in relieving symptoms in the early stages, including taken nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Injections of cortisone or artificial lubricants such as Synvisc into the joint may give temporary relief. Unfortunately, there is still no cure for arthritis, and many arthritis sufferers eventually come to joint replacement. Annapolitans are fortunate that they are served by the busiest joint replacement hospital in Maryland, where many improvements in the field were pioneered.

Did you know?

The cartilage that cushions your joints is actually living tissue. Although there is not a direct blood supply, it is able to still receive nutrients to allow healing to occur. Two of the most important nutrients for joint health are glucosamine and chondroitin. These nutrients can assist with making movement more comfortable. When looking for these products make sure they have at least 200 mg of glucosamine and 200 mg of chondroitin sulfate.

Dr. Stephen Faust is an orthopedic surgeon at Anne Arundel Medical Center with a specialty in disorders of the knee and hip. He can be reached at 410.268.8862. Visit for more information.

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