5 Osteoarthritis FAQs

Over four million Canadians live with osteoarthritis, which is the most common type of arthritis. And while this disease has become an epidemic around the world, it’s still misunderstood. For example, osteoarthritis is not a normal part of aging or a result of wear and tear on a person’s joints over time. It’s a serious disease. 

If you live with osteoarthritis, you know it’s painful and can impact several aspects of your life. But did you know it can even cut a person’s life short? Because osteoarthritis often leads to inactivity, it also increases the risk of complications like heart disease.

If you have this type of arthritis, know someone who does or simply want to lower your risk, you likely have questions. Our experts answer the top five questions people have about osteoarthritis below.


What causes osteoarthritis?

Despite an incredible amount of research, we don’t know the exact cause of osteoarthritis. However, researchers have been able to determine who is at greatest risk and understand that there might be multiple causes. For example, people who have had a previous joint injury, have high levels of fat tissue, weak muscles, and genetic predispositions are more likely to develop osteoarthritis. Women are also more likely to have OA than men. We are not sure why, but these are fairly well-established risk factors.


When do people usually get osteoarthritis?

There are two groups of people who get osteoarthritis. The first group, and the one most people link to this disease, includes older adults who start to develop joint pain later in life, so in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. The second group includes young adults who have experienced a previous joint injury.

If we take into consideration that 80 per cent of people that have osteoarthritis have it in their knees, and that 10 to 15 years after a knee injury one can start to develop signs of osteoarthritis, and then we consider that the most common age to have a knee injury is between 16 and 35, it is not uncommon to see people in their 20s and 30s with signs of it in their knees if they have had a previous joint injury.


What are the biggest myths or misconceptions about osteoarthritis?

1) Only older people get it and it’s a consequence of aging and wear and tear of the joints. This isn’t the case. Young people can get osteoarthritis, which is a disease process and not a natural consequence of aging.

2) Osteoarthritis is caused by weight-bearing activities like running or jumping, as well as high-impact activities. What we are starting to understand is that osteoarthritis can actually be caused by inactivity and by really high levels of impact activity. Between those two levels, there is a very healthy amount of impact that keeps the joint healthy and functioning well.

3) There is nothing you can do about osteoarthritis. You just have to suffer with it until an orthopedic surgeon says, “Hey, it’s time. You can go ahead and have joint replacement surgery.” This is not true. We have really good evidence to suggest that many things can be done to minimize a person’s pain and improve their function to reduce symptoms and prevent osteoarthritis from impeding everyday life.


What is the most shocking fact about osteoarthritis? 

The most shocking statistic about osteoarthritis is that it decreases a person’s life expectancy. A lot of people think osteoarthritis is just pain that interferes with someone’s ability to do things. But there is irrefutable evidence that people with osteoarthritis have a shorter life expectancy than people without it. This is largely because pain often leads to decreased physical activity, which is associated with weight gain and the development of other chronic conditions. Osteoarthritis is a serious disease that needs to be addressed before a person goes down the road of becoming inactive, gaining weight and developing additional chronic diseases, which may shorten their life span.


How can a person prevent osteoarthritis? 

That’s the million dollar question! We don’t know for sure. We do know what increases a person’s risk. If you prevent a joint injury, you are less likely to get osteoarthritis. We also know that people with a lot of fat tissue are at an increased risk for osteoarthritis. In theory, if we can help a person not gain fat tissue or reduce the amount of fat tissue they have, we should be able to lower their osteoarthritis risk.

But the reality of the situation is we don’t have the scientific research to show that we can prevent this disease. We have theories about how we can do it, but we haven’t been able to conduct those studies. A big reason for that is, when someone hurts their knee, they don’t develop osteoarthritis until 10 years later. We would need to construct a study that would follow people for 10 years. Or, if someone was going to reduce their risk for osteoarthritis by losing weight, it takes a period of time to lose weight before we would see an improvement. In theory, we can prevent osteoarthritis by reducing joint injuries, decreasing the number of people that have a lot of fat tissue or who are overweight or obese, keeping people physically active, living healthy lifestyles and eating healthy foods. However, we don’t have the studies to show this yet.

Have you experienced a knee injury? 

Worried about developing osteoarthritis? We’ve got research to help.