Although treatments for osteoarthritis of the knee are often directed at relieving pain, pain may cause patients to alter how they perform activities to decrease the loads on the joints. The knee-adduction moment is a major determinant of the load distribution between the medial and lateral plateaus. Therefore, the interrelationship between pain and the external knee-adduction moment during walking may be especially important for understanding mechanical factors related to the progression of medial tibiofemoral osteoarthritis. Fifty-three subjects with symptomatic radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis of the knee were studied. These subjects were a subset of those enrolled in a double-blind study in which gait analysis and radiographic and clinical evaluations were performed after a 2-week washout of anti-inflammatory and analgesic treatment. The subjects then took a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, acetaminophen, or placebo for 2 weeks, and the gait and clinical evaluations were repeated. The change in the peak external adduction moment between the two evaluations was inversely correlated with the change in pain (R = 0.48, p < 0.001) and was significantly different between those whose pain increased (n = 7), decreased (n = 18), or remained unchanged (n = 28) (p = 0.009). Those with increased pain had a significant decrease in the peak external adduction (p = 0.005) and flexion moments (p = 0.023). In contrast, the subjects with decreased pain tended to have an increase in the peak external adduction moment (p = 0.095) and had a significant increase in the peak external extension moment (p = 0.017). The subjects whose pain was unchanged had no significant change in the peak external adduction (p = 0.757), flexion (p = 0.234), or extension (p = 0.465) moments. Thus, decreases in pain among patients with medial tibiofemoral osteoarthritis were related to increased loading of the degenerative portion of the joints. Additional long-term prospective studies are needed to determine whether increased loading during walking actually results in accelerated progression of the disease.
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