3 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Osteoarthritis

Have you ever wondered if you’re prone to develop Osteoarthritis (OA)?

As with most things, prevention is easier than the cure so it is in your best interest to know which factors can increase your chances of developing OA, and more importantly, which of these you can control and modify yourself.

Let’s run through some of the non-modifiable (can’t be changed) risk factors first:

1. Age – with osteoarthritis being more prevalent in the over 50-year-old population

2. Gender – women have a higher risk than men, particularly just after menopause when estrogen levels drop

3. Previous Joint Injury – an old ankle sprain or knee injury can lead to early osteoarthritis, partly due to damage to the joint surface but also from resulting joint laxity, instability, and weakness

4. Joint Laxity –  Studies have suggested that increased laxity of knee – particularly in the sideways direction, may predispose to osteoarthritis.

5. Genetics – Osteoarthritis has a strong hereditary component and research has suggested that mutations in genes related to joint development might directly cause OA. So simply put, if one of your parents developed early osteoarthritis, unfortunately, there is an increased risk that you may develop it too.

CONTROL THE CONTROLLABLE!

Fear not! There are risk factors that you CAN control! 

1. Obesity

If you fit into any of the above categories, the number one thing that you can do to reduce your risk of developing or progressing your OA is to maintain a healthy weight.

  • Recent studies have proved that being overweight precedes the development of osteoarthritis in weight-bearing joints such as your knees and hips.
  • For those who have already developed osteoarthritis, being overweight increases the risk of progression of the condition. Studies have shown that a weight loss of 5% body weight results in 30% reduction in symptoms and a weight loss of 10% body weight results in 50% symptom reduction. 
  • For people who are already overweight, weight loss can reduce the risk of developing osteoarthritis. In an observational study, women who lost an average of 5kg decreased their risk of knee osteoarthritis by 50% 
  • In most studies, the increased risk for osteoarthritis of the knee among overweight people is stronger in women than men
  • Interestingly, a few studies have shown an association between obesity and OA in non-weight bearing joints such as your hands – the causes for this is still unknown but it is suggested to be linked to metabolic issues such as diabetes

 

2. Muscle Weakness 

The second biggest game-changer for reducing your risk and symptoms of OA is good muscle strength. All-round strength is important but there are two particular muscle groups that have been linked to the development of OA of our weight-bearing joints:

 a) Quadriceps Muscles – It is well recognized that quadriceps muscle weakness (front of thigh) is common in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Studies suggest that quadriceps muscle weakness not only results from painful knee OA but also is itself a risk factor for structural damage to the joint.

One study found that a small increase in quadriceps strength (approximately 20%-25%) was predicted to result in a 20%-30% decrease in the chances of developing osteoarthritis of the knee.

 b) Gluteal Muscle Strength –  Weakness of the gluteal muscles (buttock muscles) increases the inward angle of the knee during the weight-bearing tasks such as walking, running and using stairs. This increased inward angle has been shown to directly correlate with disease severity in knee OA and may increase the rate of disease progression.

 

3. Balance and Proprioception

Proprioception is our perception of joint position and movement. Proprioception is critical to the maintenance of joint stability during active tasks. The accuracy of proprioception and balance at the knee declines with age and is especially limited in our sedentary seniors. Studies have shown that poor balance and proprioception precedes the development of knee OA.

THE SOLUTION: A Suitable exercise program that incorporates:

a) Cardiovascular Exercise –  such as walking, running, swimming, and cycling to aid in weight control – whichever you enjoy! (and yes I did say running –  a recent study has shown that recreational running did not increase the incidence of knee OA compared to non-runners.)

b) Resistance Exercises – such as squats, lunges and step-up exercises to improve lower limb muscle strength – particularly of the Quadriceps and Gluteal muscle group

c) Balance and Proprioception Training – Exercises that challenge your single leg control and balance during active tasks, such as controlled single leg step downs, single leg balance and reach tasks, etc.

Do you need HELP?

Would you like help to design a personalised home or gym-based program at your level of ability and load tolerance – to either prevent or manage your Osteoarthritis symptoms? We would love to talk to you!

Just make an appointment at a time that suits and be on your way to a healthier, more comfortable you!

Matthew Russell & Kyla Dixon
Physiotherapists