Osteoarthritis is not simply "wear and tear" in joints as people get older. Researchers are studying:
- Tools to detect osteoarthritis earlier
- Tissue engineering—special ways to grow cartilage to replace damaged cartilage
- Medicines to prevent, slow, or reverse joint damage
- Complementary and alternative therapies
- Vitamins and other supplements
- Education to help people better manage their osteoarthritis
- Exercise and weight loss to improve mobility and decrease pain
- Researchers are learning about sex differences that explain why women are more susceptible than men to anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, which can lead to osteoarthritis. These include structural differences of the knee joint and thigh muscles and differences in the ways male and female athletes move. They are also developing ways to protect young female athletes from these injuries.
- Discovery of the various genetic mutations leading to osteoarthritis could lead to new treatments.
- Longer-lasting materials and designs that more closely mimic natural knee movement are making total joint replacements more suitable for younger, more active osteoarthritis patients.
- Despite the benefits, African American and Asian American patients are less likely than their white counterparts to choose total knee replacement. Also, researchers have found that race is more important than socioeconomic status in these decisions. That is an important first step toward improving access to knee surgery, and to help all patients make informed decisions about their treatment.
- Surgical advances have made hip replacements safer for older patients. This helps older patients who have other conditions that previously would not have allowed them to have the procedure.
- Less invasive surgical approaches and preoperative exercise programs have led to decreased hospital stays and faster recovery. If adopted nationwide, they could lead to major cost savings.