The risk for disability from osteoarthritis of the knee is just as harmful as the risk for disability from cardiovascular disease, according to The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. At least that’s how the academy wants attendees at its annual meeting to treat seniors who present with osteoarthritis in their offices.

Osteoarthritis researcher Fred Nelson, M.D., from Henry Ford Hospital, says osteoarthritis of the knee is one of the top five leading causes of disability in elderly men and women, often leading to loss of independence. He points out that current treatments and therapies for the disease focus on anti-inflammatory pain medication, physical therapy, joint replacement surgery and supportive devices, but do not address the cause of the disease. This, he argues, does not result in better treatments.

“The feedback of nerve signaling can have a direct effect on the cartilage cell itself,” Dr. Nelson says. “Knowledge of the back and forth messaging between the tissue components may lead to better interventions for pain. But we can’t know that until we start looking at the knee with a broader view.”

The annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons will run in San Diego from Feb. 15-18. The meeting will feature an exhibit examining osteoarthritis of the knee as an organ in failure.