Something Else to Blame on Your Parents

  • Introducing Dr. Daniel O'Neill, M.D., Ed.D, F.A.A.O.S.


    As my first column for, let me explain the unusual letters after my name (M.D., Ed.D, F.A.A.O.S.). After practicing Orthopedic Surgery for ten years, I felt I was still missing something with a number of patients. Although lip service is often given to the mind / body connection, I did not think I was doing enough to both understand this nexus and take advantage of its possible rehab and fitness benefits. Toward that end, I went back to school and received a Doctorate in Sport Psychology. While this might not make your knee arthritis feel better in the short term, in this column I hope to explore the entire range of options to keep you happy and relatively pain free while dealing with your aging body.

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    Similar to most medical issues, arthritis, or "degenerative joint disease," encompasses a wide range of symptoms and pathologies. This condition can range from swelling and disfigurement of your finger joints to painful spines, hips and knees requiring major surgery. There are two major reasons people "get" arthritis and wind up in the doctor's office. The first is due to accidents or trauma. If you broke an ankle or tore your knee ligaments skiing as a kid, you have a pretty good chance of having arthritis in that joint by the time you're 50. When anything disrupts that smooth surface or "articular" cartilage that caps the ends of your bones, it often means trouble 20 years down the road.


    Your cartilage is made up of specialized tissues that can withstand a lot of running and twisting, but there is a limit. Because cartilage does not have a good blood supply, it has little ability to repair itself. The reason that the cut you gave yourself shaving is able to heal without a scar is because of the skin's great blood supply. (It's also the reason it bleeds so much.) Much of the research being done today with stem cells and other biologic manipulation is searching for ways to turn on the repair mode in your cartilage cells.


    The other way to get arthritis is to have the wrong parents. In other words, plenty of joint pain is simply genetic. This is why the lawyer in Florida can be just as arthritic as a farmer. Doing nothing, as most of us know, is not the way to health. Humans were meant to move, to carry things, to twist, throw, etc. In fact, sitting at a desk as a lawyer is probably one of the worst things you can do as a human. The key is to find that happy medium between the stresses you show on your body, and its recovery. Unfortunately, no amount of rest will allow your joint cartilage to heal once it has been severely damaged. The trick is to show it just the right amount. But, of course, here's the rub: we weren't born with "pop-up" timers to know when our bones and joints have had enough.


    For example, you imagine ski jumpers would be showing their bodies huge stresses as they fly off those jumps and land 100 meters down the hill. Well, as a doctor for the US Ski Jump Team, I can tell you that when it's done correctly, there is very little stress to the back, hips, or knees. Unfortunately, when it's NOT done correctly....Did you ever see the beginning of the old show Wide World of Sports? Let's just say the "pop-up" timer went off for that Polish jumper!


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    So ultimately, unless we suffer an injury or multiple injuries to our joint cartilage, much of our future joint pain is pre-programmed. Over the coming months we will talk about how we can re-write at least some of that software to keep you moving and happy. This will involve harnessing the energy from your bones, your muscles, your joints, and even your mind.


    Feel free to e-mail me your questions or comments any time:


    Dr. Daniel O'Neill, M.D., Ed.D, F.A.A.O.S. is an Orthopaedic Surgeon, Sports Psychologist, and founding member of The Alpine Clinic based in Franconia New Hampshire.

Published On: May 04, 2010