To prepare for the future, Dr. Jennifer Solomon, assistant attending physiatrist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, said it's important for everyone, and especially athletes, to use proper techniques when working out and be sure to make sure all the muscle are strong and balanced. It's also important to have a strong core, which helps to distribute forces evenly when one is pushed or tackled.
But either way, experts say many professional players in contact sports may have a painful road ahead.
"Most [NFL] players are very likely to have some sort of joint pain," said Solomon.
"There is no easy cure for this problem," said Miller. "Eventually, many of these aging athletes may need to have joint replacements."
Treating the Symptoms
In the interim, Miller said treatment tries to relieve a person's symptoms. Most physicians tell patients to avoid high-impact activities and focus on low-impact aerobic conditioning, supplemented by anti-inflammatory medications. They tell patients to keep a healthy weight. They may also recommend medications like glucosamine chondroitin sulfate and injections with hyaluronic acid.
Today, Montana is a spokesman for a supplement known as JointJuice. He says the mixture has helped to relieve some of built-up pain after years of professional football.
Montana said the two primary ingredients in the "juice" are glucosamine and chondroitin, two supplements that have been marketed for several years as a way to promote and repair cartilage in the joints.
Most doctors are hesitant about glucosamine and chondroitin as a treatment for arthritis. While they appear to relieve pain and stiffness, "the data on [those supplements] are very sparse and inconsistent," said Schwenk.
But Solomon said there is indeed some data to back up use of the supplements, based on a study from the National Institute of Health.
"It's still pretty unknown what the benefit is, but patients should ask their doctor because everyone reacts differently," said Solomon. "It's a safe medication, so go with a well-tested brand. But it may not be the magic pill that people may be looking for."
Still, Miller said that as players get bigger and faster, the need for a better joint pain reliever will likely grow.
"Unfortunately, as size, speed, and intensity of this sport continue to increase," he said, "these injuries and their long-term sequella may only get worse."