The most common and most familiar form of arthritis affects 27 million people in America. People tend to think of arthritis as something that just happens with age. Indeed, it’s sometimes referred to as wear-and-tear arthritis, and results in part from the protective layer of cartilage covering the ends of the joints getting ground down by use over time. However, it isn’t an inevitable part of aging. Not everyone gets arthritis when they get older, and there are even things that can be done to prevent it.
Obesity is a significant risk factor for arthritis, particularly in the knees. Some people think that exercise can be a contributing factor to arthritis, but there is no evidence of a connection, and no reason to believe that the benefits of exercise in terms of preventing obesity and easing the stress on the bones don’t outweigh any risk there may be. Repetitive stress to the joints, however, can increase the risk of arthritis.
Other risk factors can’t be controlled. While arthritis isn’t inevitable with age, the risk of developing it does increase over time as the cartilage degrades. People with bone deformities are more likely to get arthritis; the unusual shapes of the bone cause unusual wear patterns, weakening the layer of cartilage. Joint injuries, too, can lead to arthritis, though there is no sign of any link with cracking knuckles.
Research has also suggested a possible genetic link, not to arthritis itself but to being vulnerable to the disease. Arthritis does tend to run in families, and in particular siblings of arthritis sufferers tend to get it themselves as well. That may not be entirely down to heredity, however. In a study published earlier this year, researchers fund that while drug use does not lead to arthritis, parental drug abuse might.
The researchers discovered that people whose parents had used drugs or drank excessively while the patients were under 18 and living at home were almost 60 percent more likely to get arthritis. The patients’ own substance use appeared to have no significant effect on the likelihood of getting arthritis. The researchers warn that what they have discovered is only a statistical construct, and what, if any, causal relationship exists is unknown.