Osteoarthritis and Your Genes

My dad was complaining to me about his knee pain yesterday. Actually, he wasn't complaining so much as just acknowledging the pain. "I don't let it stop me from doing things. It's just there," he said. Then he updated me on his two brothers, who have three knee replacements between them.

Knee replacement surgery
Knee replacements are common in my family.

On top of this, my mother has hip osteoarthritis.

With a strong family history of osteoarthritis, am I guaranteed to get it, too?

Osteoarthritis is in my genes

Experts have long acknowledged that family history plays a role in osteoarthritis, and a lot of recent studies provide evidence for this idea. For example, earlier this year, experts reported evidence that certain mitochondrial DNA were associated with knee osteoarthritis.1 Another study out this month reported that specific genes might predispose people to severe hand osteoarthritis.2

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Despite these studies, I don't think I'm necessarily destined for joint replacements. Here's why: my other risk factors for osteoarthritis, such as living a sedentary lifestyle and being overweight, are relatively low.

Unlike my family members, I have a habit of exercising regularly and my weight is in the normal range. Moreover, my job doesn't require manual labor or being on my feet all day.

Now, I'm not in complete denial.

My personal osteoarthritis prevention plan

Knowing I probably have a predisposition to painful osteoarthritis does affect the choices I make. For example:

  • Instead of jogging several times a week, I integrate jogging into a cross-training program that also includes swimming, biking, weightlifting, and yoga. I love to jog, but some experts believe that regular jogging may speed up joint degeneration in people like me who already have mild knee osteoarthritis.
  • I begin my workouts with warm-up exercises for my knees and hips, like squats and leg lifts. (Does that sound boring? Trust me, it is!)

By taking these steps now, I hope I'm buying myself years, maybe decades of pain-free living.

What about you? Do you have a family history of arthritis? Are you are coping with emerging osteoarthritis pain now, or living in dread that it is on the horizon? Either way, your best option is to take action and stay cautiously optimistic.

References

  1. Fang H, Liu X, Shen L, Li F, Liu Y, Chi H, Miao H, Lu J, Bai Y. Role of mtDNA haplogroups in the prevalence of knee osteoarthritis in a southern Chinese population. Int J Mol Sci. 2014 Feb 14;15(2):2646-59. doi: 10.3390/ijms15022646. PubMed PMID: 24534808; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3958873.
  2. Styrkarsdottir U, et al. Severe osteoarthritis of the hand associates with common variants within the ALDH1A2 gene and with rare variants at 1p31. Nat Genet. 2014 Apr 13. doi: 10.1038/ng.2957. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 24728293.
Post written by Jennifer Flynn