Updated 07 November 2016

Did you know Michelangelo had joint pain?

Many people are not aware that this great renaissance sculptor and painter suffered from arthritis and joint pain. His continuous activity, however, allowed him to retain the use of his hands.

Michelangelo, the renowned painter and sculptor, suffered from arthritis in his hands, but it's likely that his intense work helped him keep using his hands until he died, a team of doctors says.

No signs of inflammation

Chiselling and hammering probably accelerated the joint pain, experts said. But, that activity also prolonged his ability to use his hands.

Read: How to cope with arthritis

The doctors examined three portraits of Michelangelo when he was between the ages of 60 and 65. All three paintings show that the small joints of his left hand have arthritis-related deformity. Earlier paintings show no such signs, the doctors said.

Their conclusions were reported in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

"It is clear from literature that Michelangelo was afflicted by an illness involving his joints. In the past, this has been attributed to gout, but our analysis shows this can be dismissed," lead author Dr Davide Lazzeri, a specialist in plastic reconstructive and aesthetic surgery at the Villa Salaria Clinic in Rome, said in a journal news release.

There are no signs of inflammation in Michelangelo's hands, Lazzeri noted. There's also no evidence of the small lumps of uric acid crystals that can form under the skin of people with gout, he explained.

Our expert: On osteoarthritis in the hands and wrist

Letters written by Michelangelo reveal that his hand symptoms developed later in life. By 1552, he had great discomfort when writing. Eventually, he could no longer write and only signed his letters, the team said.

Even so, he continued to create masterpieces and was still hammering up to six days before he died in 1564. That was just three weeks before his 89th birthday, they noted.

"The diagnosis of osteoarthritis offers one plausible explanation for Michelangelo's loss of dexterity in old age and emphasises his triumph over infirmity as he persisted in his work until his last days. Indeed, the continuous and intense work could have helped Michelangelo to keep the use of his hands for as long as possible," Lazzeri said.

Read more:

Link between rheumatoid arthritis and early death

Acupuncture and Alexander Technique improve neck pain

Arthritis patients need to exercise more

Image: Michelangelo from Wikipedia


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Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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