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Who is at risk of getting osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the UK.

As we age it becomes more difficult for the cartilage in a joint to heal, which increases the risk of osteoarthritis in a joint. Although it is more common in people over 50 years old, younger people can also develop osteoarthritis if they have an injury or genetic bone defect.

Studies indicate that men are more at risk of osteoarthritis of the hip. Men are more likely than women to develop osteoarthritis of the hand, foot and knee before 45 years old, but after that age women are more at risk of arthritis in these joints. An estimated 2% of men between the ages of 45 to 64 will visit their GP at least once during a year for osteoarthritis compared to 3% of women of the same age. This goes up to 7% in men of 75 years or more but 10% in women of 75 years or more.

As well as gender, there are a number of other factors that can make a person more at risk of developing osteoarthritis.

Obesity: Being overweight is one of the greatest risk factors for osteoarthritis of the knee because excess weight puts constant pressure on the joint. For each 0.45kg of increase in weight, there is a double to triple increase of force on the knee (when standing on one leg) of 0.9-1.36kg. In fact losing weight decreases the risk of osteoarthritis in these joints and slows down its progression once osteoarthritis develops.

Repetitive use of a joint: People who have jobs or perform certain sports or activities that repeatedly use the same joints are more at risk of developing osteoarthritis. For example, a job that requires repeatedly bending the knee, squatting or lifting heavy weights (25kg or more) increases the risk of developing osteoarthritis of the knee. Likewise, some athletes, such as those who play football, tennis or are weight lifters, are more at risk of arthritis of the knee due to constant pressure on the joint.

Injury to a joint or bone: A serious injury to a joint makes it more prone to developing osteoarthritis later in life. The risk of osteoarthritis of the knee increases in an athlete who has had a knee injury, for example. A severe back injury can put that person more at risk of developing osteoarthritis of the spine. Even a broken bone near a joint can put a person more at risk of developing osteoarthritis in that joint.

Poor joint stability: Some people are born with abnormally developed joints that make them more susceptible to mechanical wear, which increases the risk of osteoarthritis. This is often the case in people with hip dysplasia (where there is an abnormal formation of the socket joint), and people with scoliosis (where there is curvature of the spine). This is also true of weak muscles that lead to poor joint stability, such as weak muscles around the knee joints increasing the risk of osteoarthritis of the knees.

Other health conditions: Rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, gout and growth hormone disorders are linked to early cartilage wear that increases the risk of osteoarthritis. Researchers are also looking at links between osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, with studies indicating that high bone mineral density may be linked to an increase in hip, knee and hand osteoarthritis. Oestrogen deficiency after menopause may also increase the risk factors.

Heredity: Because there seems to be a history of osteoarthritis among some families, genetics may play a part. However, the mechanics of how this occurs are not fully understood.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on March 29, 2017

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