Causes and Risk Factors of Osteoarthritis

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

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Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis in the United States, affecting over 32 million Americans. OA is a chronic joint condition that causes cartilage breakdown, often due to wear and tear. Common joints affected include those in the neck, low back, knees, hips, shoulders, and/or fingers. The most common risk factors for developing OA include age, excess weight, being a woman, genes, injury, and chronic health conditions.

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7 Risk Factors for Developing Osteoarthritis

Common Risk Factors

Osteoarthritis isn't caused by only 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. Before age 45 it is more common in men; after that age, it is more common in women, 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 OA that's caused by another chronic disease, which can include gout, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), diabetes, and hormone disorders.

Some ways that other diseases can cause OA-inducing joint damage:

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

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

Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Verywell / Alexandra Gordon

Genetics

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

Researchers haven't identified why OA runs in families. In fact, no single gene has been linked to the condition.

Congenital Abnormalities

Some people have abnormally formed joints. These joints are especially vulnerable to wear and tear, potentially causing early degeneration, joint damage, and disability. OA of the hip joints is commonly associated with congenital abnormalities of these 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. If overweight, a reduction of 10% of a person's body weight reduces 50% load on weight-bearing joints.

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

Certain Occupations

If your job puts stress on your joints or requires repetitive actions, this can increase your risk of 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 Best Practice & Research 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. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do you get osteoarthritis from your parents?

    Osteoarthritis is, in part, genetic. Although researchers don’t completely understand how osteoarthritis is inherited, multiple studies have found a hereditary link. So if one of your parents has it, your risk is significantly higher.

  • Can you get arthritis from playing sports?

    Yes, if the sports are hard on your joints. Injuries and repetitive motions can wear out joint cartilage, causing post-traumatic arthritis, a type of osteoarthritis.

  • What causes osteoarthritis in the hip?

    In addition to the common causes of osteoarthritis (age, genetics, obesity, and injury), OA in the hip joint can be caused by hip dysplasia; osteonecrosis, in which bone dies due to a lack of blood supply; and structural problems like femoroacetabular impingement, where the ball and socket joint is misshapen. 

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13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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