Osteoarthritis (OA) is a term you’re probably familiar with. OA is the type of arthritis most people are talking about when they simply say “arthritis.” Let me guess – you’ve heard OA is an inevitable condition that happens with old age, will cause pain, an you’ll just have to accept and deal with it? Right?
Wrong. Actually, OA is a complex disease with several subtypes, each with their own risks. As more research is completed, we are better able to tell you just how much risk is involved with each subtype, why you might be predisposed to the disease from birth, steps you can take for prevention, and possible treatments. Of course, at the root of all these risks and treatments are the causes of OA. We’ve outlined the 4 causes of OA, so you can better understand why you may be at risk and what you can do to prevent it.
Like mentioned above, you may be at risk for OA before you’re even born, just by the makeup of your body’s blueprint. To date, three genes have been identified and linked to a higher risk of developing OA and scientists are on the hunt for more. However, genetic predisposition to OA is complicated because each gene only plays a modest role in your overall susceptibility to the disease. Plainly stated, there is no one gene that will 100% identify that you will get OA. We are all walking around with many different genes that predispose us to several different diseases. No interventions currently exist for genetic abnormalities associated with OA.
Did you hurt your knee playing soccer as a teenager, or sustain an injury snowboarding, hiking, or playing football? Even a bad fall or a car accident could cause injuries that literally last a lifetime. Post-traumatic arthritis occur after a bad shock to the joint. According to Arthritis Today, researchers report that 50% of patients that have a traumatic injury to the knee will develop OA within 10 to 20 years. The process is complex and involves a chain reaction of changes in the joint. Your body’s natural reparative process can’t keep up with biological and chemical changes that happen after an injury. Premature aging of cartilage cells occurs because cells start to die off in the cartilage that normally protect against deterioration. Then if OA develops or not – depends on several factors including genetics, age, body mass index, and the type of injury and treatment.
There is some truth to the fact that aging plays a factor in risk for OA. However, aging does not directly cause OA or everyone would get it at a certain age. With that being said, OA is common, with 50% of people 65 and older having it. The other factors I’ve mentioned in this post also contribute to risk, while aging itself predicts the development of OA because of changes that happen to your joints over time. There are still many unknowns in the area of aging as it relates to OA. Researchers continue to explore how oxidative stress and mechanical stress contribute to degenerative disease. According to Arthritis Today, researchers confirm that OA is not just a degenerative disease that gets worse over time, it is an active inflammatory disease.
As with most things in life, weight plays a factor in your risk for osteoarthritis. The reasons why obesity puts you at a higher risk for OA is twofold. The first reason is a simple biomechanical phenomenon that says the more weight on your joints, the more stress they endure. These effects are particularly harmful when bones are misaligned. The second reason obesity can put you at a higher risk for OA is that fat tissues release chemicals that increase inflammation and impact the joints. This includes non-weight bearing joints like those in the fingers.
To date, these are the 4 known causes of OA, but research is being done every day to find more evidence and information. Armed with this knowledge there are steps you can take to protect yourself from OA and take care of your joints. Some like genetics, you can’t control, but others like obesity and trauma can be influenced by the choices and actions you take. Caring for your joints shouldn’t start when you begin to feel pain, it should be a lifelong effort.
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