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Dinosaurs Suffered from Arthritis

Pain relievers and joint replacement surgery were not available 70-million years ago, especially for dinosaurs. Hadrosaur had to roam the earth in great pain and immobility from arthritis.

Fragile fossil of a Hadrosaurus.

Fragile fossil of a Hadrosaurus.

For the first time, scientists have found proof that the common duck-billed dinosaur suffered from septic arthritis. This debilitating form of arthritis, causing joints to be red and inflamed, is still common in birds and reptiles. These plant-eating “bulky lizards” ran on its back legs but needed to be on all fours to graze and drink. Having arthritis was a life-threatening malady.

A 3-D scan of Hadrosaurus's arthritic elbow.

A 3-D scan of Hadrosaurus’s arthritic elbow.

The study, published in the journal, Royal Society Open Science states,

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first recorded account of septic arthritis in dinosaurs.

The severity of the pathology suggests the animal suffered with the condition for some time before death.

Dr. Jennifer Anné from the University of Manchester and lead author says,

The condition would have made it almost impossible for the animal to move its elbow, making it look a bit like the hobbling pigeons you see today. It’s almost humbling to think that the same conditions that affect the pigeons on the street might have also affected their impressive dinosaur relatives.

David Parris of the New Jersey State Museum found specimens of Hadrosaurus in a former quarry in New Jersey. Because the fossils had fragile, pyrite disease, extra care handling them was needed.

The former quarry in New Jersey where the arthritic Hadrosaurus was discovered.

The former quarry in New Jersey where the arthritic Hadrosaurus was discovered.

The scientists used a non-invasive microCT scanner (a high-resolution type of CT scanner) at Harvard University’s Center for Nanoscale Systems to do an internal diagnosis of the bone. Analysis ruled out cancer, gout, tuberculosis and the poultry disease osteopetrosis. The elbow was fused and covered with bony growths. This was the first time scientists had seen septic arthritis in dinosaurs.

Analysis of the fossilized bone.

Analysis of the fossilized bone.

Dr. Brandon Hedrick of the University of Massachusetts and co-author of the study says,

By microCTing the specimen, we not only ensured an accurate diagnosis of the pathology, but also the preservation of the specimen for future scientific studies.

Co-author Jason Schein of the New Jersey State Museum adds,

The fact that such a fossil was preserved is difficult to comprehend. It’s exciting to think that New Jersey is still producing scientifically important finds after over 200 years of paleontological discoveries.