Osteoarthritis can’t be cured, and it worsens over the years. The cartilage that acts as a cushion for joints wears away, bone rubs on bone and can cause severe pain. Some degeneration of cartilage is a natural part of aging, but it’s good to know if you might be at risk for developing arthritis. Then you can focus on ways to help prevent it or slow its progression.
1. Joint Injuries and Overuse
Accidents and extreme sports that either injure or put excessive stress on joints are not only responsible for raising the risk of osteoarthritis but also lead to its early onset.
However, don’t give up on exercise altogether; movement is good for your general health. If you have any concerns or are expecting to go into professional sports, you may want to talk with your physician about a joint and muscle evaluation. Weak quadriceps muscles may actually increase your risk of knee osteoarthritis, so it’s important to stay strong … without too much overuse!
On a similar note, it’s not just sports that are the culprit of putting excessive stress on joints and increase risk factors for osteoarthritis. Your job could put you at risk for an accident or overuse joint stress. Some of these types of occupations include construction worker, jackhammer operator, factory worker, data entry/typist and farmer. Typically these are physically-demanding jobs.
Because the loss of cartilage and changes to bones may cause osteoarthritis, it’s easy to understand that age is a primary risk factor for arthritis. And the older you are, the greater the risk. According to the CDC, only 13.9 percent of adults 25 or older have osteoarthritis. At 65+, that percentage rises to slightly more than 30 percent. But by age 70, the risk factor rises to 70 percent.1
4. Family History
Genetics is more of an osteoarthritis risk factor than you might think. According to a 2004 study, if members of your family have had osteoarthritis, your risk of developing a similar condition may increase by as much as 65 percent.2 For this reason, your physician will discuss your family history during a physical exam for arthritis.
Obesity is a severe osteoarthritis risk factor. First, extra weight puts additional stress on the weight-bearing joints—in particular, knees and hip joints. In fact, according to a 2005 study, losing just one pound takes four pounds of pressure off your knees.3 Second, abdominal fat and fat tissues can produce cytokines (proteins) that cause painful inflammation in joints that can lead to arthritis. Researchers estimate that overweight women are as much as five times more likely to develop osteoarthritis of the knee.
To some extent, gender is another osteoarthritis risk factor, and it’s also associated with age. It appears that men have a slightly higher risk factor for the early onset of osteoarthritis—perhaps because of participation in extreme sports and higher-risk occupations. Women’s risk, on the other hand, increases with age.
A poor diet that’s low in essential vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids may increase your osteoarthritis risk factors—particularly for knee osteoarthritis. If you live on fast food or are a committed vegan or vegetarian, you may want to consult with your physician about foods and supplements that raise your levels of vitamins A, C and D as well as selenium and omega-3. Your doctor may want to run tests to check your nutrient levels.
8. Bone Deformities
People with defective or congenital cartilage problems, joint misalignment or who are born with an abnormal or deformed joint also have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis. Some people are born with malformed joints or less cartilage, which can increase the risk of osteoarthritis. Abnormalities of the hip and knee can lead to premature osteoarthritis.
9. Disease Complications
Complications from several diseases are often associated with arthritis and may increase your risk for osteoarthritis. Among these are diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and gout. Similarly, hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, may cause joint pain and arthritis. And a recent study suggests that osteonecrosis (reduced blood supply to the bones) also may increase osteoarthritis risk factors.4
Determining your osteoarthritis risk factors is not always easy because there are so many of them. Injury, family history, age, sex, occupation, weight, diet, bone deformities and other health conditions all play a role. So, if you think you may be at risk or are suffering from prolonged joint pain, talk with your physician.
3 Messier SP, Gutekunst D, Davis C, DeVita P. “Weight Loss Reduces Knee-Joint Loads in Overweight and Obese Older Adults with Knee Osteoarthritis.” Arthritis & Rheumatology. July 2005. Available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/art.21139/full. Accessed October 13, 2015.
4 Pivec R, Johnson AJ, Harwin SF, Mont MA. Differentiation, diagnosis, and treatment of osteoarthritis, osteonecrosis, and rapidly progressive osteoarthritis. Orthopedics. 2013;36(2):118-25. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23379734. Accessed August 11, 2015.