Sometimes it seems like nearly everyone gets arthritis in their knees, sooner or later.
The perception is not that far off from the reality either. According to the CDC, nearly half of Americans will have knee osteoarthritis by the time they’re 60.
But despite it being a common ailment, there are several factors that have been shown to raise your risk—some of which you can alter in order to lower your personal risk.
Risk factors out of your control
Your risk for knee osteoarthritis increases as you age, starting at about age 45 and leveling off after age 75. This is because increased wear and tear on the knee joint causes a wearing down of the protective cartilage, triggering arthritis.
Women are at higher risk for knee osteoarthritis than men. This may have something to do with women’s hip and knee alignment or with hormone levels.
A family history can raise your risk, so if you had a parent who developed osteoarthritis, chances are greater that you will too.
Risk factors you can do something about
- Frequent use
A knee that is put through repetitive strain from a sport, profession, or hobby that involves frequent kneeling, running, or jumping is experiencing continual “micro-traumas.” These can make arthritis more likely to develop.
If you can’t avoid repetitive actions that are hard on the knee, protect the joint as best you can by doing stretching and strengthening activities to build up the muscles that surround the knee.
- Previous injury
A knee injury can leave you more vulnerable to future arthritis, even years later. So take care to avoid an injury before it occurs by following good training habits if you run or participate in a sport.
- Excessive weight
This is one of the biggest risk factors for knee arthritis, and the one you have the most power to change. Losing just a few pounds can significantly reduce your risk for knee osteoarthritis.
If you are overweight or obese, work with your doctor or a nutritionist to put together a diet and exercise plan that you can stick with.
No one knows exactly what causes osteoarthritis, so keep in mind that you can have all these risk factors and till not develop knee arthritis—or you can have none of them and develop it anyway.
Although osteoarthritis can’t be cured, early treatment can preserve the function of the knee for years or even decades, so see your doctor if you have signs of knee osteoarthritis, which include knee pain and stiffness that comes and goes and occasionally flares up.