There’s a movement in medicine that states that most of the chronic diseases that now plague man, like heart disease and arthritis, are created by modern society. But is this true for arthritis? We know that ancient skeletons of our ancestors have arthritis. Now a research team has taken that back even farther, as it turns out that dinosaurs had arthritis as well.
How Ancient Is Arthritis?
Just a few months ago I shared a study comparing the prevalence of knee arthritis in modern human skeletons to knee arthritis in ancient skeletons (going back as far as 6,000 years); however, it seems we can go back even farther—millions of years farther in fact—and to skeletons of an entirely different species to find some of the earliest evidence of arthritis. The time is the Mesozoic Era (the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous Periods), which spanned 180 million years, beginning about 250 million years ago. The skeletons are of giant reptiles, one a sea reptile and the other a dinosaur.
In 2012, the journal Palaeontology published the first evidence of arthritis found in a Jurassic Period gargantuan marine reptile known as the pliosaur. The researchers had found degeneration in the joints of a pliosaur’s giant jaws and suggested it was likely due to cartilage wear and tear in old-age arthritis. As the disease progressed, this carnivorous king of the seas, despite its massive stake-sharp teeth, would have lost its ability capture and crush its prey. In this particular pliosaur, the jaw degenerated to such a point that it fractured and was then unable to heal, and researchers believe this led to starvation.
Jump ahead a few million years to the Cretaceous Period. Now, evidence of severe arthritis has also been found in the skeleton of a dinosaur, known as the hadrosaur.
First-Time Diagnosis of Septic Arthritis in a Dinosaur
As technology continues to advance, it seems we are able to dig farther and farther back into the history of Planet Earth. And this time, history takes us right here to the United States soil and a dinosaur called the hadrosaur.
Using a modern technology (a high-resolution micro-CT scan) that wouldn’t destroy the crumble-prone fragile hadrosaur bones, researchers found evidence of severe elbow arthritis during a study of the dinosaur’s radius and ulna bones unearthed in New Jersey. The X-ray revealed severe degeneration of the joint, fusion of the radius and ulna bones (the bones grew together), as well as numerous bone spurs, leading researchers to the conclusion that the hadrosaur had suffered with septic arthritis for an extended length of time, likely living in severe pain and inflammation for many years.
What Is Septic Arthritis?
Septic arthritis occurs when an infection (bacteria, virus, fungus, or parasite) attacks the cartilage. In humans, septic arthritis typically occurs when an infection, often Staphylococcus, enters the bloodstream and travels to a joint. Other causes include puncture wounds, such as a bite, a surgical or catheter infection, or IV drug use. Those who already have a diagnosis of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, are at a higher risk for septic arthritis, so it’s important to keep your joints healthy and strong to help them best fight off any infection that finds its way in.
Dinosaurs May Have Had to Live with Painful Arthritis, but You Don’t
There are many things you can do to keep your joints healthy and strong and prevent or delay the onset of osteoarthritis (the wear and tear type) and, therefore, lessen your risk of infection. If you already have arthritis, there are things you should and shouldn’t do to help relieve your symptoms and protect your joint.
- Get your hypertension under control as it may increase your risk of arthritis.
- Steer clear of conditions that lead to metabolic syndrome (characterized by early diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, etc.), as this may destabilize the chemical structure of cartilage, thereby making it a high risk factor for arthritis.
- Certain types of exercise, even if you already have arthritis, helps your joints.
- Try supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin to relieve the pain and inflammation of arthritis and improve function.
- NSAIDS—don’t do it! Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have been shown to make arthritis worse.
- Steroids—don’t do it! Steroids are toxic to cartilage and ineffective at long-term pain relief.
- Meniscus surgery—don’t do it! Surgery on the meniscus stresses the knees, which may cause arthritis down the road.
The upshot? If you have arthritis, don’t despair, you’re in good company! It’s been happening for millions and millions of years, and it seems to be common throughout history. So the next time you’re in a museum, check out those dino joints!