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Table tennis involves adoption of the semi-flexed knee and asymmetrical torsional trunk movements creating rotational torques on the knee joint which may predispose players to osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. This study aims to compare radiographic signs of knee OA and associated functional levels in ex-elite male table tennis players and control subjects.
Study participants were 22 ex-elite male table tennis players (mean age 56.64 ± 5.17 years) with 10 years of involvement at the professional level and 22 non-athletic males (mean age 55.63 ± 4.08 years) recruited from the general population. A set of three radiographs taken from each knee were evaluated by an experienced radiologist using the Kellgren and Lawrence (KL) scale (0-4) to determine radiographic levels of OA severity. The intercondylar distance was taken as a measure of lower limb angulation. Participants also completed the pain, stiffness, and physical function categories of the Western Ontario and McMaster University Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) 3.1 questionnaire.
The results showed 78.3% of the ex-elite table tennis players and 36.3% of controls had varying signs of radiographic knee OA with a significant difference in the prevalence levels of definite radiographic OA (KL scale > 2) found between the two groups (P ≤ 0.001). Based on the WOMAC scores, 68.2% of the ex-elite table tennis players reported symptoms of knee pain compared with 27.3% of the controls (p = 0.02) though no significant differences were identified in the mean physical function or stiffness scores between the two groups. In terms of knee alignment, 73.7% of the ex-elite athletes and 32% of the control group had signs of altered lower limb alignment (genu varum) (p = 0.01). Statistical differences were found in subjects categorized as having radiographic signs of OA and altered lower limb alignment (p = 0.03).
Ex-elite table tennis players were found to have increased levels of radiological signs of OA in the knee joint though this did not transpire through to altered levels of physical disability or knee stiffness in these players when compared with subjects from the general population suggesting that function in these players is not severely impacted upon.