10 Surprising Facts About Osteoarthritis

  • Senior Couple Outdoors
    Osteoarthritis Facts vs. Fiction
    Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease that affects 27 million Americans. One in 2 adults will develop osteoarthritis of the knee and 1 in 4 adults will experience osteoarthritis symptoms in the hip by age 85. Yet misconceptions about this common disease abound.

    Learn more about osteoarthritis, as well as osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, two medical conditions that are frequently confused with OA, with these facts and stats.

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    1. Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States.
    In healthy joints, cartilage covers the ends of bones and cushions them so we move easily. Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage to break down, so joint bones begin to rub against one another. This rubbing can cause pain, swelling and decreased range of motion and make it difficult to walk, stand or perform other activities.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arthritis limits the everyday activities of 24 million Americans. However, it’s a mistake to think there’s little that can be done to ease pain or improve mobility. With appropriate treatment and self-care, most people with osteoarthritis will see significant improvement.

  • Group of older female Caucasian friends taking a selfie at restaurant together
    2. Women are more likely than men to develop osteoarthritis.
    Globally, approximately 18% of women and almost 10% of men older than 60 experience pain and difficulty due to osteoarthritis. No one knows exactly why women are more prone to this degenerative joint disease, but research suggests that estrogen—or, more specifically, declining estrogen levels related to menopause—may play a role. Some evidence suggests estrogen replacement therapy may decrease arthritis symptoms in menopausal women.

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    3. Repetitive movement and injuries can cause osteoarthritis.
    Yes, an injury in your youth may cause osteoarthritis in later life. According to the Arthritis Foundation, approximately 50% of people who experience a traumatic injury will later develop symptoms of osteoarthritis in the affected area. Athletes who suffered knee injuries, including strained or torn ligaments, for instance, are likely to develop arthritis of the knee.

    Repetitive movements, such as bending, standing or lifting, can also cause cartilage breakdown and arthritis. If your job requires many of the same movements over and over, you’re at increased risk of developing osteoarthritis.

  • Unseen older man experience knee pain on stairs
    4. Osteoarthritis increases the risk of falling.
    According to the Arthritis Foundation, people with osteoarthritis experience 30% more falls than people who do not have arthritis, and people with OA are 20% more likely to break a bone than unaffected individuals. Appropriate treatment and self-care can help minimize the risk of falling, even if you have arthritis. Medical treatment, including cortisone shots to the affected joints, can improve mobility, decreasing the likelihood of a fall. Using assistive devices, such as a cane, walker, or railings installed alongside stairs and in the shower, can also decrease the risk of falls.

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    5. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are different.
    Both of these types of arthritis can cause joint pain, swelling, and difficulty with movement, as well as permanent joint damage. However, the root cause of each disease is different. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease; symptoms occur when the cartilage in a joint (or joints) can no longer effectively cushion the bones. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease; it occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the internal organs as well as joints. OA is restricted to joints.

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    6. Exercise is essential for people with osteoarthritis.
    Purposefully engaging in physical activity can sound excruciating to someone whose joints ache when simply getting out of bed in the morning is painful. But exercise helps the muscles and ligaments stay strong and flexible, which ultimately puts less strain on the joints. Increased physical activity can also accelerate weight loss, and every pound lost significantly decreases stress on joints. Good exercises for people with OA include yoga, swimming, weight lifting and bike riding.

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    7. Similar lifestyle changes can help both osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.
    Osteoporosis is a medical condition characterized by loss of bone tissue; whereas, osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease from loss of cartilage in the joints. Both conditions increase the risk of broken bones. Regular exercise can decrease this risk by increasing bone mass and strengthening the muscles and ligaments connected to the bones. A healthy diet, including regular intake of calcium and vitamin D, is good for bone and joint health. Physical therapy is often recommended to people with osteoarthritis as well as people with osteoporosis, to focus on muscle strength, proper body alignment during exercise, and balance.

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    8. Osteoarthritis often affects sleep and mood.
    The pain associated with osteoarthritis can make it difficult to sleep at night. This lack of sleep, combined with difficulty performing activities of daily living and once-favorite leisure activities, often contributes to the development of depression. Fortunately, treating the symptoms of osteoarthritis frequently relieves the symptoms of depression as well. Appropriate treatment can dramatically decrease or eliminate pain, allowing affected individuals to resume favorite activities and sleep soundly. If feelings of hopelessness and sadness linger after arthritis pain is eased, talk to your healthcare provider.

  • Woman shopping for supplements
    9. Nutritional supplements may or may not help.
    Many articles and advertisements claim that glucosamine and chondroitin, two substances that are naturally found in the connective tissue of the body (including cartilage), can relieve osteoarthritis pain and improve function. Both of these substances are widely available as nutritional supplements, but there’s no clear evidence that either eases symptoms. The American College of Rheumatology currently states people should not use either substance, also noting that both glucosamine and chondroitin interact with a common blood-thinning medication.

    Other nutritional supplements that may improve joint function include avocado-soybean unsaponifiables and omega-3 fatty acids. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking any supplements.

  • Young female Caucasian woman talking to male Caucasian doctor about artificial hip joint
    10. A joint replacement may be the best treatment in some cases.
    Many people consider a hip or knee replacement a last resort—a treatment to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, the desire to avoid surgery often causes people to live with pain and disability far longer than necessary. Although it makes sense to try less-invasive treatments first, people who have not found adequate relief with medication, lifestyle changes, and medical treatment should consider joint replacement. Modern joint replacements are safe and frequently help patients return to activities they once thought they’d have to forgo forever.

10 Surprising Osteoarthritis Facts | Osteoarthritis vs. RA

About The Author

Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a Registered Nurse-turned-writer. She’s also the creator of BuildingBoys.net and co-creator/co-host of the podcast On Boys: Real Talk about Parenting, Teaching & Reaching Tomorrow’s Men.
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  8. Could Hormone Therapy Improve Arthritis? Practical Pain Management. https://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/patient/treatments/hormone-therapy/could-hormone-therapy-improve-arthritis
  9. 6 Things You Should Know About Dietary Supplements for Osteoarthritis. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/osteoarthritis-supplements
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  11. Mediterranean Diet for Osteoarthritis. Arthritis Foundation. https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/osteoarthritis/articles/mediterranean-diet-oa.php
  12. Osteoporosis and Arthritis: Two Common But Different Conditions. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/conditions-behaviors/osteoporosis-arthritis?_ga=2.229288792.570946330.1567129999-1793523553.1536262611

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Sep 19
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.