About Osteoarthritis and Its Causes

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About Osteoarthritis and Its Causes
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that affects the joints. The cartilage, which serves as a cushion between joints, wears down, making movement difficult and painful. As the cartilage breaks down, people with osteoarthritis experience pain and stiffness when moving joints.

So, what causes some people to develop osteoarthritis while others can live long, healthy lives?

5 Common Risk Factors for Arthritis

Below are common risk factors and causes of osteoarthritis:

1. Age

If you’re lucky, you’ll live to a ripe old age. However, there are consequences that come with the aging process. As you age, your musculoskeletal system undergoes changes that increase the likelihood of osteoarthritis, such as:

  • The loss of muscle tissue
  • Reduced body awareness
  • Impaired balance
  • Looser ligaments that cannot protect joints as well as tight, healthy ones
  • Cartilage, which cushions the joints, becoming more brittle
  • Deteriorating bone structure

These changes alone do not always lead to osteoarthritis. Older people become more susceptible to osteoarthritis when they compound these issues with risk factors such as obesity and injury.1

2. Gender

Of the 27 million Americans estimated to have arthritis, six in ten are women. Why?

Because women’s bodies are designed to give birth, their joints are more mobile to make way for changes that occur during pregnancy. Because women’s joints are less stable, they are more likely to injure them. Also, women’s joints are not aligned the way that men’s are. Women’s hips are further apart than their knees, which predisposes women to more injuries.

Hormones also appear to play a role.

In fact, in the first fifty years of life, the prevalence of arthritis is similar for men and women. This suggests that hormonal changes as a result of menopause are a contributing factor.2

Estrogen protects the cartilage in joints from becoming inflamed. Once estrogen declines due to menopause, women lose some of their protection against osteoarthritis since inflamed joints are more prone to osteoarthritis.

3. Injuries

When people are in an accident or have a sports injury, it often can result in damage to cartilage, ligaments and dislocated joints, increasing the likelihood of osteoarthritis. This type of trauma is one of the leading causes of osteoarthritis in younger people.

4. Occupation

Research has shown that people with certain jobs are more likely to get osteoarthritis than the general population. The highest rates of osteoarthritis occur among female cleaners, women in the clothing industry, masons, those who work in construction and agriculture.3

5. Weight

Overweight people are more likely to have osteoarthritis. Researchers don’t know how excess pounds influence osteoarthritis. However, every extra pound puts additional stress on the joints and may increase the wear and tear of cartilage.

The extra pressure on joints, however, does not fully explain the causality because overweight people are also more likely to experience osteoarthritis in their hands. Researchers theorize that there may be some circulatory changes in the body of heavy people that accelerate the breakdown of cartilage and bone, leading to osteoarthritis.4

The causes of osteoarthritis may not be easy to identify unless caused by an accident, injury or repetitive stress on the job. Weight, gender and age simply add to the risk. If you are experiencing symptoms of osteoarthritis, the best thing to do is make an appointment with your physician.

1 A. Shane Anderson, MD and Richard F. Loeser, MD, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2818253/. Accessed July 16, 2015.2 Tanamas SK, Pushpika W, Wluka A, et al. Sex hormones and structural changes in osteoarthritis: A systemic review. Maturitas 2011;69:141-56.

3 M Rosignol, A Leclerc, F Allaert, S Rozenburg, J Valat, B Avoiac, P Coste, E Litvak and P Hilliquin. Primay osteoarthritis of hip, knee and hand in relation to occupational exposure. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, 2005 Nov, 62(11): 772-777. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1740886/. Accessed July 16, 2015.

4 D T Fleson. Does excess weight cause osteoarthritis and, if so, why? Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases The Eular Journal, 1996;55:668-670. Available at http://ard.bmj.com/content/55/9/668.full.pdf+html. Accessed July 17, 2015.