Biomechanically-informed non-invasive treatment for knee osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is one of the leading causes of physical disability in adults worldwide and is associated with a significant personal and economic burden. It is estimated that one in eight Canadian adults currently have osteoarthritis, which results in $10.2 billion in annual health-care costs and an additional $17.3 billion in economic impact due to loss of employment productivity and other indirect health-care costs. Most commonly affecting the knee, osteoarthritis is characterized by the breakdown of articular cartilage, a smooth lining at the ends of bones that allows ease of movement and shock absorption. It is believed that high magnitude and poorly distributed loads that pass through the knee joint play a strong role in the development and progression of knee osteoarthritis. Improvements in pain, physical function, and quality of life can be achieved by developing treatments that effectively reduce and more evenly distribute these loads.

Dr. Michael Hunt’s research will focus on the use of sophisticated motion analysis equipment and techniques as a way to measure the loads experienced by the knee joint during walking. A better understanding of the factors that influence the magnitude and distribution of knee joint load will inform the development of treatment methods that effectively target these factors. He will focus on methods to optimize the load-reducing capacity and methods of clinical delivery of three treatments: lower limb exercises, gait modification, and shoe insoles. These treatments are designed to be non-invasive (non-surgical and non-pharmacological) in order to improve patient safety while minimizing health-care costs.

This research will be the only program in BC (and one of only a few in Canada) using analysis of motion and knee joint loading to inform clinical treatment for knee osteoarthritis. The focus on non-invasive treatments is in stark contrast to the majority of current osteoarthritis research, which is in the areas of surgery or drugs. Hunt’s research will provide effective treatment alternatives that have lower costs of delivery, fewer side-effects, and wider availability to patients. In addition, new treatment strategies that minimize joint loads have great potential in slowing the rate of disease progression, thereby reducing economic costs in the long-term and significantly improving the quality of life of those affected.