Causes and Risk Factors of Osteoarthritis

Age, excess weight, gender, genes, and injury are all risk factors

In This Article

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis in the United States, affecting over 30 million Americans. OA is a chronic joint condition that causes cartilage breakdown in the neck, low back, knees, hips, shoulders, and/or fingers. Although there are no specific known causes for osteoarthritis, numerous risk factors have been identified. Age, excess weight, being a woman, genes, injury, and chronic health conditions are the most common risk factors.

Common Risk Factors

As mentioned before, osteoarthritis isn't caused by any one specific factor. Instead, there are risk factors that make you more susceptible to developing osteoarthritis in one, or in several, joints.

Age

Osteoarthritis is connected to wear and tear of joints and is common as people age. Most often, it affects people age 40 and up. 

However, it does affect people under 40, even children, if a person has other risk factors for OA.

Gender

Osteoarthritis affects both men and women. It is more common in men until age 45; after that age, it is more common in women, this according to the National Institute on Aging.

Researchers previously thought that this had to do with stress on the joints experienced by men and women at different ages. Newer research points to an association between menopause and OA. In fact, several studies have found a connection between estrogen and joint health.

 According to one 2018 report in the Journal of Mid-Life Health, menopause is associated with the onset and progression of OA in women, which might explain why OA affects more older women than it does older men.

Injury

Osteoarthritis can also be caused by the wearing out of a joint after a physical injury. This condition is called post-traumatic arthritis, and the injury could be related to sports, a fall, a vehicle accident, or other physical trauma. 

According to one 2016 report, post-traumatic arthritis is the cause of 12% of OA cases. Post-traumatic arthritis results in injuries that damage cartilage or bone, causing the joint to wear out quicker.

The wear and tear process of joint cartilage can be accelerated by continued injury, as well as excess body weight.

Chronic Diseases

Secondary osteoarthritis is caused by another chronic disease, including gout, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), diabetes and hormone disorders.

  • Crystal deposits, which are the cause of gout, can also cause cartilage degeneration and osteoarthritis.
  • RA is known for causing joint and degeneration of the cartilage that eventually leads to OA.
  • Hormone disorders, including diabetes and growth disorders, are associated with early cartilage wear and tear and secondary osteoarthritis.

If you have a medical condition or disease risk factors for OA, talk to your doctor about the best ways to reduce the risk for developing secondary OA. 

Genetics

Osteoarthritis runs in families. If your parent or a sibling has OA, you have an increased risk of developing the condition.

Researchers don’t know why OA runs in families. In fact, no one gene has identified as causing the condition. However, genes do contribute to the increased risk.

Congenital Abnormalities

Some people are both with abnormally formed joints that are congenital abnormalities. These joints are especially vulnerable to wear and tear, causing early degeneration, joint damage and disability. OA of the hip joints is commonly associated with congenital abnormalities of the joints.

Lifestyle Risk Factors

There are a number of ways you can lower your chance of developing osteoarthritis. Making some changes in your lifestyle, when possible, can help.

Excess Weight

Being overweight is a specific risk factor for OA. Numerous studies have shown a link with excess weight and knee OA.

One 2014 report in Obesity Reviews reports that just losing 10 pounds with exercise can be key in managing OA and leads to significant improvement in symptoms, pain, function, and quality of life.

Being overweight puts increased stress on joints. People who are overweight are more susceptible to OA of the knees, hips, and spine.

OA is also associated with non-weight bearing joints, as weight alone is not enough to increase OA risk.

Certain Occupations       

If your job puts stress on your joints or requires repetitive actions, this can increase your risk for OA.

Job activities that put strain on your joints include those where you are:

  • Kneeling and squatting for more than an hour daily
  • Lifting
  • Climbing steps
  • Doing a lot of walking
  • Participating in joint-intensive sports

Research reported in the journal Clinical Rheumatology finds that doing heavy manual work is a risk factor for osteoarthritis. The report from researchers out of the United Kingdom finds that those with the highest risk are working in agriculture and farming for ten or more years. 

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Article Sources

  1. Osteoarthritis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated January 10, 2019.

  2. Osteoarthritis. American College of Rheumatology. Updated March 2019.

  3. Osteoarthritis. National Institute on Aging. Updated May 1, 2017. 

  4. Mahajan A and Patni R. Menopause and Osteoarthritis: Any association? J Midlife Health. 2018 Oct-Dec; 9(4): 171–172. doi:10.4103/jmh.JMH_157_18

  5. Punzi L, Galoozi R, Luisetto R, et al. Post-traumatic arthritis: overview on pathogenic mechanisms and role of inflammation. RMD Open. 2016; 2(2): e00027. doi:10.1136/rmdopen-2016-000279

  6. Bliddal H, Leeds AR, and Christenten R. Osteoarthritis, obesity and weight loss: evidence, hypotheses and horizons – a scoping review. Obes Rev. 2014 Jul; 15(7): 578–586. doi:10.1111/obr.12173

  7. Harris EC and Coggen D. Hip osteoarthritis and work. Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2015 Jun; 29(3): 462–482. doi:10.1016/j.berh.2015.04.015

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