When mentioning osteoarthritis (OA), many people quickly associate it with old age. Though it is less common, OA and early onset osteoarthritis affects a significant number of younger individuals. Because of these age-centered thoughts, an OA diagnosis can be alarming and confusing. While it can seriously affect a person’s life, OA is a treatable condition. Here are some factors of early-onset OA development.
Weight and Early Onset Osteoarthritis
The relationship between weight and OA is well documented. Studies have shown that 10 extra pounds can increase the force on the knee joints by up to 50 pounds. Then add your daily step count. Obesity is particularly dangerous, as the issues can play off of each other and become a cycle that is challenging to break.
OA Diagnosis (Pain/Inflammation) → Less Active Lifestyle → Weight Gain → Increased Force on Knee
This cycle can start at any of the four stages of OA and at any age. Even in young people, obesity can result in serious knee issues. A study done in 2012 found that 100% of 20 morbidly obese children aged 9 to 19 had early symptoms of OA. Early onset Osteoarthritis development can mean significant knee pain in adulthood.
Identifying OA in young athletes is hard. Athletes typically have a higher pain tolerance and their priority is returning to play, not always healing properly. To get back in the game. Combined that with an athlete mindset and the high-impact of an active lifestyle. Their chances of suffering micro-trauma or articular cartilage degeneration significantly increase.
The rate of OA development can also increase as a result of birth defects such as misaligned joints. This mechanical instability or irregularity can cause degeneration of cartilage much faster than the lifestyle alone.
Young people tend to lead active lifestyles, play competitive sports or work physically demanding jobs. Consequently, this puts them in constant risk of serious knee injuries and early onset Osteoarthritis. Those knee injuries can lead to OA in different ways:
- Injuries leading to knee instability can result in a mechanical imbalance that results in the gradual degeneration of the cartilage in the knee.
- Injuries sustained directly to the cartilage, the subchondral bone (the bone layer just below the cartilage), or the menisci can result in a degenerative change.
What Can You Do?
It is never too early to start thinking about knee health. There are many proactive treatments designed to improve function and mobility. In addition, exercise and a proper diet will not only help relieve the force sustained by your knees, but also result in better overall health. Most importantly, even though injuries are sometimes inevitable, ensuring that proper healing and treatment time before returning to work or sports will go a long way in ensuring good knee health into adulthood.
If you’re experiencing knee pain you should schedule an exam to determine what’s causing it and to treat the underlying cause. Prevention and early intervention can reduce risk and slow the progression of the disease.