Belle's hip condition stems from breakdown of cartilage

Joint buffer incapable of healing after damage to socket has been done

March 10, 2001|By Jonathan Bor

Osteoarthritis of the hip is the breakdown of cartilage that lines the hip socket.

Cartilage is a thin, slick substance that buffers the joint, allowing people to flex and bear weight without pain. Once the cartilage deteriorates, people experience intense pain and stiffness that comes from bone grinding against bone.

Cartilage has no blood supply, nerves or lymph system. This makes it a great buffer, but also makes it incapable of healing once damaged.

The condition affects millions of Americans, particularly the elderly, but also the young. Scientists now believe that some people might be genetically predisposed.

Though wear and tear can cause the cartilage to break down, many people who lead active lives - even athletes who abuse their joints to the extreme - escape the problem altogether.

"With some people, all they need is a little bit of pain control and they're OK," said Dr. Marc Hungerford, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who practices at Good Samaritan Hospital. "Some people progress rapidly and need total knee replacement."

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