More than 1 in 5 American adults have received an arthritis diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with Osteoarthritis being by far the most common form. While most people generally expect the “wear and tear” inflammatory joint condition to be one that affects those over age 65, a full 14% are diagnosed as early as 25 years old. What are the causes of early onset osteoarthritis, and does a diagnosis mean doom?
Osteoarthritis is considered to be the result of “wear and tear” on the body, or the cumulative effect of years of using and abusing our cartilage, the slick, shock-absorbing connective tissue between our bones in a joint. Over time, cartilage begins to deteriorate, resulting in pain, stiffness, tenderness, and a grating sensation as the bones have less cushion and support and begin to rub together. While osteoarthritis ordinarily shows up in the bodies of adults after age 65, it’s not entirely uncommon for younger people to experience the effects of wear in their joints, too. Why are we seeing more early onset osteoarthritis, and what can be done about it?
Joint injuries are some of the most common indicators of early onset osteoarthritis, and in the last few decades, more and more people have taken up recreational sports. Studies show that in cases of injury to structures in the knee such as the ACL, 80% of patients show signs of osteoarthritis within the next 5-15 years. Risks for developing the condition rise dramatically when athletes hurt their knees as teens, but the older you are when a joint is injured, the more quickly osteoarthritis is to follow.
Obesity is strongly associated with osteoarthritis, according to researchers at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center at Penn State. And with 2 of every 3 American adults being overweight or obese, it makes sense that diagnosis of early onset osteoarthritis continue to rise. A Wake Forest University Study actually determined that for each pound of body weight over an ideal range, the knees experience an extra 4 pounds of pressure and strain with each step.
Some studies are working to link the typical “American Diet,” rife with inflammation-inducing refined sugars and carbohydrates, hydrogenated fats, dairy, and meat products, with the higher incidence of joint inflammation. The microbiome, or the community of bacteria that lives in our gut, might also play a role in early onset osteoarthritis.
Does a diagnosis deem you damaged goods?
According to sports medicine orthopedist at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Bashir Ahmed Zikria, “Most of the time when I see people in their 30’s and 40’s with early-onset arthritis, it is very treatable; It’s not a death sentence.” The main goals of treatment include minimizing pain and improving functionality, and neither of these requires giving up an active lifestyle. In fact, strengthening and stabilizing exercises are recommended as a non-pharmacological treatment for osteoarthritis. Bracing is also considered a great non-surgical treatment method for knee osteoarthritis, as it can affect change in the alignment and biomechanical forces in the knee. Another effective treatment for knee osteoarthritis is viscosupplementation, which has anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties and can help reintroduce more fluid movement in the joint.
Need a second opinion for an osteoarthritis diagnosis?
As common as osteoarthritis is, it can be tricky to correctly diagnose and difficult to treat effectively. At Atlanta Medical Clinic, our physicians work to successfully treat all types of acute or chronic pain using minimally invasive, clinically proven treatments and therapies. Contact us today for an accurate diagnosis and a multidisciplinary treatment approach that can provide you with the pain relief you need.