Purpose: It is unclear how high-intensity physical activity (HIPA) affects the knee joint, specifically the femoral cartilage (FC). Therefore, the aims of this study were to evaluate FC thickness via ultrasound among elite athletes involved in different types of HIPA, and to determine whether there is a correlation between serum cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (sCOMP) and rectus femoris (RF) thickness.
Method: A total of 132 male individuals participated in this study and were assigned to two groups, the sedentary (n = 43, 23.9 ± 3.7) and athlete groups (n = 89, 22.7 ± 4.6), which did not significantly differ in age. The athletes were elite and performed HIPA during sports such as volleyball (n = 20), soccer (n = 21), basketball (n = 28), and weightlifting (n = 20). RF thickness and three (mid-point) measurements were obtained for each knee. The mean FC thickness for each knee was defined as the sum of the medial, lateral condyles, and intercondylar areas. Blood samples for sCOMP analyses were also obtained.
Results: All the measurements of the FC of both knees were significantly higher in the athletes than in the sedentary individuals (p < 0.001 and p = 0.001). The mean right and left FC values were also higher in the athletes (p < 0.001). Multiple linear regression analysis showed that participation in sporting activities was a significant predictor associated with the right and left mean FC thickness (p < 0.001 for both). No significant differences in the sCOMP levels were found between the two groups.
Conclusion: It was found that the mean FC was higher among athletes than among sedentary individuals. As a result, it is suggested that sports' participation is an independent factor associated with the right and left mean FC thickness.
Level of evidence: III.
Keywords: Athletes; Femoral cartilage; Rectus femoris; Thickness; sCOMP.