Many people suffer from osteoarthritis and, contrary to popular misconceptions, it is not just a condition that affects older people. In fact, it is believed to affect between 12 and 15 per cent of the population who are aged between 25 and 74. It is much more prevalent in older people, but its presence in younger men and women as well means that there are a variety of causes which are not just explained by the natural ageing process and the inevitable wear and tear on joints as we get older.
According to a report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in the US, factors that affect patients’ likelihood to develop osteoarthritis are vast. These range from genetics and molecular structure, to what is described as environmental factors such as ‘biomechanical stress’. What this means is the stresses and strains that are put on people’s knee and hip joints through the lifestyles that they choose to live. Scientists are of the belief that biomedical stresses play a highly significant role in the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis.
The right balance needs to be struck
It is widely accepted that certain lifestyle activities can increase the chance of developing osteoarthritis in joints like the knees and hips. High impact sports, for example, especially those with very repetitive motions, have been linked with the development of the condition. It is a delicate balance that needs to be struck, though, as conditions such as obesity are also proven to be linked with the development of osteoarthritis.
Data that has contributed to this includes a study of 506 young female athletes in the US. The study looked at this group because their lifestyle choices suggested that they could be in a higher risk bracket for developing osteoarthritis. The results concluded that there were indeed patterns to be seen in the development of the condition in girls who had been impacted by ‘biomechanical stress’ on their joints, both during pre-puberty and when they were nearing adulthood.
Data such as this is particularly interesting to researchers, as it has been proven that women are at a greater risk than men of developing injuries to their knee and hip joints as a result of environmental factors, compared with men. The Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy looks in detail at the factors that affect degeneration of the knee and hip joints and concludes that environment factors, coupled with gender, can be regarded as ‘red lights’ in terms of risk categories for those undertaking strenuous sports “the knee has been reported to be the most common site of overuse injuries in runners, 74 triathletes, 18 and military recruits ….. females sustain a higher number of traumatic and overuse knee injuries when compared to males.”
The benefits of understanding more about biomechanical stresses
Identifying these trends gives medical professionals the knowledge and statistics required to ensure that preventative steps to ensure that those in higher-risk categories are educated accordingly and advised of the risk associated with their lifestyles.
Sometimes, a relatively simple chance to how people are living can make a big difference in terms of their propensity for developing conditions like osteoarthritis. The report authors summarise some of the benefits in this type of case: “Female athletes may benefit from hip targeted exercises prior to puberty and more global (hip and knee focused) neuromuscular training following pubertal maturation to reduce their risk to develop PFP [patellofemoral pain].”