Preventing arthritis after ACL injuries

La Trobe University researchers are calling on young people with persistent knee pain and restricted function after surgery to take part in a study on how exercise therapy and education can help.

It comes after a trial study found exercise therapy and education led to less pain and better quality of life in 87 per cent of participants.

La Trobe University researcher Dr Brooke Patterson said, with young people increasingly developing arthritis after knee surgery, it is vital that an effective treatment program is developed.

“Half of all Australians who have anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee surgery develop arthritis by 40, which is a staggering figure,” Dr Patterson said.

“Exercise therapy and education is how we treat older people with arthritis, but researchers have never before asked whether similar interventions could work for young people.

“Yet almost every person who completed our 16 week exercise and education program said they had less pain and better quality of life,” Dr Patterson said.

Dr Patterson said Australians have the highest rates of ACL injuries worldwide, and young Australians are most at risk.

“There’s been a 74 per cent in knee surgery in people under 25 since 2000,” Dr Patterson said.

“If half of these people develop arthritis in their 30s, they will have a less active lifestyle, and potentially even need a knee replacement when they are middle-aged.”

The first phase of Dr Patterson’s study was a small proof of concept trial for 27 people with persistent knee symptoms after surgery.

Dr Patterson said the study showed that ceasing treatment six to 12 months after knee surgery, as most people do, is not the best course of action.

“We found about one third of people still have pain and restricted function after a year – so rehab may need to continue well beyond that point for a good long-term outcome,” said Dr Patterson.

As part of the initial trial, participants followed a researcher-developed exercise program focused on the lower leg, which aimed to build knee strength with heavy leg weights, jumping and agility exercises.

A former basketball and AFLW football player, Dr Patterson is driven by the experience of her own ACL injury to prevent arthritis and keep people playing sport for longer.

Former physiotherapist for the Hawthorn Football Club and creator of the Melbourne ACL Rehab Guide Randall Cooper said anyone can benefit from a regular strength routine.

“Weekend warriors need to think about strength and conditioning just like elite footballers, especially after injury,” said Mr Cooper.

“Regular workouts focused on strengthening joints and supporting old injuries is critical in keeping your body functioning well and preventing arthritis symptoms.”

La Trobe University researchers are now seeking volunteers who had knee surgery in the last three years, and were between 18 and 40 years at the time of their surgery.

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