7 Risk Factors for Arthritis

The Factors We Can Control Versus Those We Can't

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Arthritis is the inflammation of a joint and a condition that many people assume is an inevitability as a person ages. In some ways, the assumption is right given that the degeneration of bone and joints is a natural part of the aging process. At the same time, we know there are things we can do, often simple, to minimize this type of progressive damage.

Think of your joints in the same way as your skin. Sun damage in your youth, for example, can lead to the development of cancer 30 or 40 years later. The same applies to joints. The more that we understand that the stress we place our joints today can lead to the development of arthritis later, the more we might treat them — and ourselves — with better care

Types of Arthritis and Key Risk Factors

While we tend to think of arthritis as one thing, there are actually over 100 different forms of the disorder, each with their own set of causes and risk factors. The most common include osteoarthritis ("wear-and-tear" arthritis), rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and fibromyalgia.

Determining the cause of arthritis can be difficult since multiple, overlapping factors typically contribute to its development. Among the 7 most common risk factors associated with arthritis:

  • Genetics seem to play a key role the development of certain types of arthritis, although the association is still not fully understood. What we do know is that a family history can suggest an increased risk depending on the type of arthritis involved. Certain forms of rheumatoid arthritis, for example, are linked to genetic markers known as HLA-B27 and HLA-DR4. Other forms of arthritis seem less influenced by genetics.
  • Older age is a major factor as cartilage becomes increasingly brittle over time and has less capacity to repair itself. The development of osteoarthritis is typically seen to begin between the ages of 40 and 50, although it can start earlier in other forms of the disorder.
  • Obesity is a factor as it directly contributes to the stress a joint can be placed under. This is especially true for the joint of the hips and knees, where excessive weight can impact the joint directly and cause inflammation that gradually eats away joint tissues.
  • Previous joint damage can cause irregularities in the normal, smooth joint surface. Previous injury certainly plays a part in the development of arthritis of the wrist, where the complex bone and cartilage structure can be easily compromised by impact or compression. Other examples include arthritis caused by a tibial plateau fracture, where at broken area of bone enters the cartilage of the knee joint.
  • Occupational hazards include those which happen in jobs involving manual labor or repetitive motion. As such, protective measures are often put in place to minimize damage caused by heavy lifting and activities that demand the constant flexure and retraction of a joint. Even minor repetitive movements like pulling a lever or pushing a cart can cause deterioration of bone and joint cartilage over a period of years.
  • High-level sports activity can lead to arthritis if it involves blunt force impact or results in damage to a bone or joint. We’re not just talking about contact sports but ones, such as long-distance running, that place persistent impact stress on a joint. On the flip side, moderate, routine exercise can minimize the symptoms or development of arthritis by bolstering the muscular structure around a joint, giving it support.
  • Certain infections around the joint, whether bacterial or viral, cause lead to the deterioration of cartilage or the formation of skin lesions that penetrate the joint and synovial membrane. People who experience a joint infection (septic joint), multiple episodes of gout, or experience recurrent staph infection around a joint run a higher risk of developing arthritis.

    In some situations, determining a specific cause of arthritis may be easier, will and others it is more difficult. It is almost always multifactorial, meaning that the development of arthritis is almost never isolated to one individual source. We live in a world where people want to understand their body and their medical conditions with clarity, and therefore people will often assign a single factor as the cause of their arthritis. The reality is, that the development of arthritis is a complex and intertwined process, where multiple factors work together to lead to the development of this condition.

    Even in people who are at high risk for developing arthritis, or in those who have already developed arthritis, there are still steps that you can take to prevent the progression of arthritis. Preventing the progression of the condition can help to ensure that simple treatments remain effective for as long as possible.

    A Word From Verywell

    Arthritis is a common condition, that everyone will eventually develop if they live long enough. Some people develop symptoms of arthritis much earlier than others, and the development of arthritis can be traced to a number of different causes. Some of these causes may be more prominent for one individual compared to another, and everyone experiences symptoms of arthritis is likely to have several underlying issues that led to the development of the condition.

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    Article Sources
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Arthritis Types." Atlanta, Georgia; updated April 12, 2017.