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Causes & Prevention of Osteoarthritis

The causes of osteoarthritis are still not clear, but most researchers suspect a combination of factors contributes to the disease.  Being overweight, the aging process, joint injury, and stresses on the joints from certain jobs and sports activities can all increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis and aging
Joint pain and arthritis are not inevitable with age. While a breakdown of cartilage surrounding joints is likely to occur to some degree, many treatment and prevention options can dramatically reduce joint pain.  For example, weight loss can reduce the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis.

Exercise is an important aspect of weight reduction. Individuals with osteoarthritis should consult with a physical therapist to select the most appropriate exercises. Visit Exercise and Arthritis and Treatments for Osteoarthritis on this site for more information about exercise and treatments which improve arthritis symptoms.

Exercise and osteoarthritis

Regular amounts of physical activity do not lead to osteoarthritis. However, engaging in high-impact sports for a long period of time (especially at an elite level) can increase the chances of developing osteoarthritis 46. Studies show that injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or meniscus can lead to an early development of osteoarthritis. Damage to the ACL results in some degree of osteoarthritis in 60-90 percent of people within 10-20 years of the injury. In order to avoid the onset of osteoarthritis, the following precautions can be taken:

  • Restrict participation in high-volume, load-bearing sports, or alternate between sports
  • Avoid injury by improving strength and muscle tone
  • Use appropriate safety and protective equipment in sports
  • Use the best technique possible in all sports and physical activities.
  • If injury does occur, avoid all unnecessary immobilizations after surgery, and return to sports and exercise slowly 46.

Research indicates that strong quadriceps muscles may help prevent the development of knee osteoarthritis, although it is not certain if strengthening the quadriceps helps to stop the progression of existing knee arthritis 45. Evidence also to suggest that improving the biomechanics of the body in common activities such as walking might help to prevent or slow the progression of knee osteoarthritis 55. Abnormalities in gait (walking) patterns increase the stress can be applied to the cartilage of the knee, causing damage or increasing pain. Many physicians, physical therapists, and exercise professionals conduct gait analysis and can suggest exercises to improve patterns.

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