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Doctors at the Naval Medical Center San Diego are studying the cause of rapid cartilage loss in knees, shoulders, and other joints following injuries, the Navy Times is reporting. The condition, joint chrondrolysis, is forcing otherwise healthy military personnel and athletes into early retirement.

“We have to identify [chondrolysis] better and find ways to prevent it,” said Matthew Provencher, director of orthopedic surgery. Differing from typical cases in which cartilage tears and erodes over a span of years, with chondrolysis “it’s more of an acute onset,” he told the Times.

Dr. Daniel Solomon, the center’s former director of sports medicine and shoulder surgery, recently co-authored an article for a medical journal with Provencher and Dr. Anthony Romeo, team doctor for the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox. The team studied 830 cases of joint chrondrolysis brought on by infections, surgical injuries, embedded hardware, and medications.

The condition was first observed in the 1930s and has afflicted patients as young as age 20. Cartilage wear can be expected with age, but “you shouldn’t get it in your 20s,” says Solomon, now a naval reservist and operator of an orthopedic and sports medicine center.

Provencher says that despite the condition having been identified decades ago, there remains a dearth of research available on the topic. He says he hopes to see more research done in the future and points out that military personnel would provide an “ideal” sample group.

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