Tennis powerhouse, Serena Williams, announced that she would play no more competitive tennis in 2015 following her grand slam defeat by Roberta Vinci in the US Open Semi-final this summer.  Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, disclosed that Williams has knee injuries similar to those that have hindered the career of Rafael Nadal.

Serena Williams, 34, has dominated the women’s circuit for 2015 with five singles titles- three of them at Grand Slam events. With 21 Grand Slams, she is attempting to break Steffi Graf’s 22 and Margaret Court’s 24 records.  An injury like this could be a major set-back for her.

Her Coach revealed that ‘her knees have nearly run out of cartilage, opening her up to threat of a career-ending stress fracture’. Cartilage breakdown explains the degenerative nature of knee osteoarthritis (OA). The body is constantly repairing the daily wear and tear on our joints; however, it develops when the body can’t maintain this repair process. OA in the knee is the most common form of osteoarthritis affecting 50% of people aged 65 and above. Whilst most experience relatively mild symptoms, for one in ten people, their knee pain and joint stiffness are debilitating.

Over the last two decades research has shown that the muscles that stabilise and move the joint play a key role in the development and the deterioration of knee OA. Weakness and loss of neuromuscular control of the quadriceps, as well as other muscles around the knee and the hip, is thought to be a precursor to the degenerative process. The first apparent change is usually cartilage damage, which increases over time, eventually causing the underlying bony surface to become exposed with growth on the edges of the joint, visible by X-ray. A stress fracture is caused when a tiny crack develops in the bone as a result of repeated stresses.

Various elements can predispose people to developing the condition and increase the rate of degeneration. These include obesity, genetics, gender (women being more likely to develop OA than men), the onset of old age, overuse of the joint in physically demanding occupations, previous joint trauma, or in professional athletes like Serena Williams.

Her coach, Mouratolglou, said that the condition of her knees had left her with “no other option” than to rest. “She has treatment but I know that without rest there is no chance because bone keeps hitting bone all the time.”  Although she will take part in the International Premier Tennis League in Asia next month, she will not have played competitively for three and a half months by the time she reappears in Australia in early January.