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Human articular cartilage fails to respond to physical training

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An in vivo study has suggested that the amount human articular cartilage deforms after exercise is independent of physical training, as shown by responses of patellar and tibial cartilage and between professional athletes and others.

Deformity of patellar cartilage ranged from −5.9% to −2.8%, in a dose dependent manner, for various activities in 12 healthy young volunteers (−5.9% knee bends, −5.0% running, −4.7% squatting, −4.5% cycling, and +2.8% walking). Deformity of femorotibial cartilage, however, was greatest for high impact loading—as in jumps from 40 cm height (−7%)—but small for other activities. There was no significant difference in deformity of patellar cartilage in weightlifters (−2.9%), bobsleigh sprinters (−3.9%), or non-athletes (−4.1%).

Deformity was measured by magnetic resonance imaging and three dimensional image analysis before and after exercise. Of the 50 volunteers, six men and six women did patellar exercises and five men and five women femorotibial exercises (knee bends, (one leg) static loading of weight, and jumps from 40 cm height onto one leg. Seven weightlifters and seven bobsleigh sprinters were compared with 14 healthy young men for deformity of patellar cartilage induced by knee bends.

This is the first in vivo study of human patellar and femorotibial cartilage response to such a wide range of physical activities. The authors hypothesised from animal studies that physical training would result in less deformity, but this seems not to be true for humans. Understanding how cartilage behaves in vivo is important for understanding the process of osteoarthritis and the local environment of transplanted cartilage.