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Wayne Gretzky seems to be suffering from arthritis and will become the official spokesman for the Osteoarthritis Early Awareness Campaign, according to a newspaper report today.

"I know that he was quite surprised about it" when told by doctors he could have arthritis, Annie Beauchemin, manager of public relations in Canada for Johnson's McNeil Consumer Healthcare, told the Toronto Globe and Mail.

Denis Morrice, president of the Toronto-based Arthritis Society, said he learned last week that Gretzky is showing early signs of osteoarthritis in his shoulders.

Doctors who had examined Gretzky, 38, after he complained of pain had told him it could be caused by the disease.

Osteoarthritis, which generally hits people about the age of 55, is a painful condition that results from wear and tear of the joints that causes cartilage to degenerate, leaving bone to rub against bone.

Two months before retiring, Gretzky acknowledged the physical toll that the game was taking on his body. He said he was experiencing pain, stiffness and numbness in his upper back, lower neck and right shoulder and arm.

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