Sarcopenia’s Role in Knee OA Progression

OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Jeffrey Stambough, MD, in response to a recent study in Arthritis & Rheumatology.

The incidence of total knee arthroplasty to treat end-stage knee osteoarthritis (OA) continues to rise even in the face of patient risk-stratification tools and alternative payment models. Consequently, payers, patients, and their doctors are placing a premium on methods to prolong the native knee joint and delay or avoid surgery. This partly explains the explosion of interest in biologics and the subsequent checkreins being put in place regarding their use.

As the AAOS clinical practice guidelines for the management of knee arthritis clearly state, the best management for symptoms of knee arthritis remains weight loss and self-directed physical activity. However, there is uncertainty regarding which subtypes of patients are likely to achieve OA symptom benefits with different weight-loss strategies.

A recent large, multicenter cohort study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology attempted to further characterize patient body composition and its association with knee OA.  Using whole-body dual x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) measures of fat and muscle mass, researchers classified patients into one of four categories: nonobese nonsarcopenic, sarcopenenic nonobese, nonsarcopenic obese, or sarcopenic obese. Sarcopenia is the general loss of muscle mass associated with aging. If orthopaedic surgeons better understand how fat and muscle metabolism change with time and affect inflammation and chronic disease, they may be able to provide patients with additional insight into preventive measures.

Using DXA-derived calculations, the authors observed that among older adults, the relative risk of developing clinically significant knee osteoarthritis (Kellgren-Lawrence grade ≥2) at 5 years was about 2 times greater in both sarcopenic and nonsarcopenic obese male and female patients compared to nonobese, nonsarcopenic patients.  Sarcopenia alone was not associated with risk of knee OA in women or men. In a sensitivity analysis focusing on BMI, men showed a 3-fold greater risk of knee OA if they were sarcopenic and obese, relative to nonobese nonsarcopenic patients.

The takeaway from this study is that focusing solely on fat/weight loss may overlook a valuable opportunity to slow the progression of knee arthritis in some patients.  Further studies are needed to validate the contribution of low muscle mass to the development and progression of symptomatic knee arthritis.

Read this related OrthoBuzz post about sarcopenia’s relationship to mortality in elderly patients with acetabular fractures.

Jeffrey B. Stambough, MD is an orthopaedic hip and knee surgeon, an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and a member of the JBJS Social Media Advisory Board.

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