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What causes osteoarthritis?

Many factors can increase your risk of osteoarthritis. It’s often a mixture of these that leads to the condition:

Age – Osteoarthritis usually starts from the late 40s onwards. We don’t fully understand why it’s more common in older people, but it might be due to your muscles weakening and your body being less able to heal itself, or your joint slowly wearing out over time.

Gender – For most joints, especially the knees and hands, osteoarthritis is more common and more severe in women.

Obesity – Being overweight is an important factor in causing osteoarthritis, especially in your knee. It also increases your chances of osteoarthritis slowly becoming worse.

Joint injury – A major injury or operation on a joint may lead to osteoarthritis in that joint later in life. Normal activity and exercise don’t cause osteoarthritis, but doing very hard activities over and over or physically demanding jobs can increase your risk.

Joint abnormalities – If you were born with abnormalities or developed them in childhood, it can lead to earlier and more severe osteoarthritis than usual. Perthes’ disease of the hips is an example.

Genetic factors – Nodal osteoarthritis, which particularly affects the hands of middle-aged women, runs strongly in families, although it’s not yet clear which genes are involved. And some rare forms of osteoarthritis which start at an earlier age are linked with genes that affect collagen (an essential part of cartilage). Genetic factors play a smaller, but still important, part in osteoarthritis of the hip and knee. Arthritis Research UK has recently funded a grant into unravelling the genetic causes of osteoarthritis.

Other types of joint disease – Sometimes osteoarthritis is a result of damage from a different kind of joint disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout.

Risk factors for osteoarthritis

We've also recently opened the Arthritis Research UK Centre for Osteoarthritis Pathogenesis, which will look to understand why osteoarthritis develops.


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