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RSNA: Knee Cartilage Can Regenerate in Distance Runners

Cartilage between knee, ankle, and foot joints has ability to regenerate, researchers suggest

person jogging

TUESDAY, Dec. 1, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Runners who run very long distances suffer cartilage damage in their lower joints -- but the cartilage can regenerate, a small study suggests. The findings are scheduled to be presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, held from Nov. 29 to Dec. 4 in Chicago.

The study included 44 runners taking part in the 2009 Trans Europe Foot Race, which involved running nearly 4,500 kilometers (about 2,800 miles) over two months without any days of rest. Using a mobile magnetic resonance imaging truck, the researchers scanned the runners every three or four days during the event. Nearly all cartilage in knee, ankle, and hind-foot joints showed significant deterioration in the first 900 to 1,550 miles of the race.

"Interestingly, further testing indicated that ankle and foot cartilage have the ability to regenerate under ongoing endurance running," Uwe Schutz, M.D., a radiologist and specialist in orthopedics and trauma surgery in the department of diagnostic and interventional radiology at the University Hospital of Ulm in Germany, said in a Society news release. "The ability of cartilage to recover in the presence of loading impact has not been previously shown in humans. In general, we found no distance limit in running for the human joint cartilage in the lower extremities."

The researchers also found that the runners had lost 6.1 percent of their brain's gray matter by the end of the race. But eight months later, their gray matter volume had returned to normal.

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