Medically young, older athletes

Spot the differences?

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You don’t have to be a Radiologist to see that there are some differences between the two X-rays above. Both are from adults of the same age 51 years. Female on left as you look at screen and male on right. In both cases, these adults would be described as “medically young”. Always physically active and reasonably accomplished as athletes in their respective sport disciplines. Never smoked, never overweight, good nutrition.

As discussed at the recent conference at the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) on “Sports Injuries and Sports Orthopaedics” in the session on the “Ageing Athlete”, there are challenges for athletes in Masters’ age groups, including mechanical joint issues associated with increasing age.

Looking at the male X-ray on right there is small gap between femoral head (ball-like structure) and acetabulum (socket in which femoral head lies). This gap is where the articular cartilage reduces friction between articulating surfaces of this ball and socket joint. In contrast in female X-ray on left of screen, this gap is reduced as cartilage has been worn away so that on right hip (left as you look at screen) bone is grinding on bone. Ouch!

Look again at the femoral heads (ball like structures). In the male these have smooth contours and are symmetrical on both sides. In contrast, in the female there is marked asymmetry with squashed appearance on right side (left of screen) of the femoral head with honeycomb appearance suggesting that there is cyst formation and impaction into socket of joint. This results in shorter leg and weakness of the bone architecture so more likely to compress further. Strangely the blood supply to femoral head is retrograde, meaning it flows backwards from origin of supplying blood vessel to provide vital nutrients to bone, which is a living tissue. If this blood supply is disrupted then the bone dies (avascular necrosis) and become more fragile. The femoral neck (slim area below femoral head) where blood supply courses, has been telescoped down and looks stubby compared to opposite side in female.

Although in the female, the right hip aches and is stiff, it is actually the left hip (right as you look at screen) that hurts more, both at rest and when trying to exercise. Why? If you look carefully on the upper boarder of acetabulum (socket) you will see small cysts. I imagine that pain is caused when the synovial fluid (lubricating fluid) in joint is forced into exposed bone, in hydraulic action especially when moving the hip joint.

So what to do? Total hip replacement (THR) is the only feasible option for the female above, due to extensive damage to the hip joints. Why are some people more prone to this type of joint damage? Apart from underlying medical pathologies that damage joints, the nature of some types of exercise can contribute. For example Ballet is demanding on the hip joint in terms of range of movement and load bearing. The individual can also be predisposed in biomechanical terms to joint issues: in the female X-ray above the femoral head is more exposed than the male.

Although the perception is that THR is more for the elderly wishing to be able to walk to the shops, with improvements in materials and technology used in hip protheses, there are examples of young athletes successfully returning to previous pre-operative levels of exercise training without pain. Recently a 28 year old male soloist dancer of the Paris Opera Ballet had a THR and returned to professional dancing. The medically young athlete will probably have the required motivation and physical ability to rehab effectively. A house in the south of France with private pool and climate for rehab outside would certainly add to motivation. Nevertheless, return to dancing at a professional level in a top level Ballet company after THR is remarkable as classical dance requires a unique combination of outstanding strength, control, proprioception and flexibility. At the conference at the RSM, during the lecture on “Can I run after my hip replacement?” hip replacements in the medically young, active population were reported to have good success rate with athletes able to return to previous level of sport with predicted lifespan of replacement of up to 25 years. Of course every individual athlete should weigh up the pros and cons. Taking up a new impact sport would probably not be sensible. Delaying surgery too long, apart from increasing pain, can compromise biomechanics and therefore replacement outcome. On the other hand, any operation carries a risk, however small and THR requires extensive rehabilitation in order to return to sport.

Deciding on the timing of THR in medically young, older athlete is not straight forward, especially if considering your own hips. Ultimately in such a person, the decision to go for surgery is based on quality of life and limitation to current sport activity, combined with the desire to return to previous level of activity, without the pain. What would you do?

For further discussion on Endocrine and Metabolic aspects of SEM come to the BASEM annual conference 22/3/18: Health, Hormones and Human Performance

References

Successful Ageing Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2017

Conference: Sports Injuries and Sports Orthopaedics, Royal Society of Medicine, 18/1/17, Session “The Ageing athlete”. Including lectures on: “Can I run after my hip replacement? Current recommendations for impact exercise following joint replacement” Mr Konan and “Managing acute injuries in worn joints” Mr Oussedik

 

 

 

Successful Ageing

As I am discovering, ageing is an inevitable process. However what can you do to keep as healthy as possible in order to get the most out of life?

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If you are a Masters athlete, you will know that moving into these age groups means it is advisable to change training emphasis in order to prevent injury and compete successfully. As discussed at the recent conference Royal Society of Medicine on Sports Injuries and Sports Orthopaedics, during the session on “The Ageing Athlete”, older athletes need a longer dynamic warm up with controlled mobilisation and muscle activation, together with strength and conditioning sessions to prevent injury. Moving into next age group every five years gives the opportunity to assess and modify training accordingly.

Childhood development has an impact on long term adult health. Essentially the most rapid changes and potential peaks attained during childhood and adolescence reflect optimal physical and cognitive functioning in later life. The evidence from population cohort studies was presented by Professor Diana Kuh, director of MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing, at the recent conference at the Royal Society of Medicine. Up to 66% of the decline in functional ability in ageing adults is related to childhood development. In the case of pubertal timing, Professor Kuh described that delay causes 20% reduction of volumetric trabecular bone accrual. In my 3 year longitudinal study of 87 pre and post pubertal girls, high levels of training delayed menarche and blunted attainment of peak bone mass (PBM). Conversely an optimal level of training did not delay menarche and improved bone mineral density compared to age marched sedentary controls. A similar long term effect is seen in older female athletes who have experienced amenorrhoea of more than 6 months duration. Even after retirement and resumption of menses pre-menopause, irreversible loss of bone mineral density (BMD) is seen. Professor Kuh argued for specific and personalised recommendations to individuals to support successful ageing.

From a personalised medical perspective, what about hormonal changes associated with ageing? Although in men testosterone levels decline with age, nevertheless the change is more dramatic in women at menopause where the ovaries stop producing oestrogen and progesterone. This results in increased risk after the menopause of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and stroke, together with other vasomotor symptoms and mood changes. With increased life expectancy comes an increasing number of women with menopausal symptoms and health issues which can negatively impact on quality of life. What about hormone replacement therapy (HRT)? HRT improves menopausal symptoms and reduces the risk of post menopausal long term health problems, provided HRT is started within ten years after the menopause. After this window of opportunity replacement oestrogen can actually accelerate cell damage. As with any medical treatment there will be those for whom HRT is contra-indicated. Otherwise the risk:benefit ratio for each individual has to be weighed up so that women can arrive at an informed decision. Regarding the risk of breast cancer, this is increased by 4 cases per 1,000 women aged 50-59 years on combined HRT. This compares to an additional 24 cases in women who have body mass index (BMI)>30 and are not on HRT. This underlines the important of lifestyle which is crucial in all areas of preventative medicine.

What type of HRT has the most favourable risk:benefit ratio? Oral preparations undergo first pass metabolism in the liver, so other routes of delivery such as transdermal may be preferred. There is also an argument that hormones with identical molecular structure are preferable to bio-similar hormones. What functional effect could a slight difference in sex steroid structure have? For example no methyl group and a side chain with hydroxyl group (C-OH) rather than a carbonyl group (C=O)? That is the difference between oestradiol and  testosterone.

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Testosterone
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Oestradiol

In the case of hormones with identical molecular structure to those produced endogenously, there are no potential unwanted side effects or immunogenic issues as the molecule is identical to that produced by the body. Although the oestradiol component in most HRT preparations in the UK has an identical molecular structure to endogenous oestradiol, there is only one licensed micronised progesterone preparation that is has an identical molecular structure. Synthetic, bio-similar progestins have additional glucocorticoid and androgenic effects compared to molecular identical progesterone which exerts a mild anti-mineralocorticoid (diuretic) effect.

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Progesterone
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Norethisterone (synthetic progestin)

With an increasing ageing population and increase in life expectancy, it is important to support successful ageing and quality of life with a personalised and specific approach.

For further discussion on Endocrine and Metabolic aspects of SEM come to the BASEM annual conference 22/3/18: Health, Hormones and Human Performance

References

Conference Royal Society of Medicine 17/1/17 “Sports Injuries and Sports Orthopaedics” Session on “The Ageing Athlete”

Optimal health: especially young athletes! Part 3 Consequences of Relative Energy Deficiency in sports Dr N. Keay, British Association Sport and Exercise Medicine

From population based norms to personalised medicine: Health, Fitness, Sports Performance Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine 22/2/17

Optimal health: including female athletes! Part 1 Bones Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sports Medicine

Bio-identical hormone replacement therapy course. Marion Gluck Training Academy 27/1/17

The British Menopause Society

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists