• Advanced Physical Therapy and Fitness

Osteoarthritis and Women

Among people with arthritis, women develop osteoarthritis twice as much as men, especially in the knee and hand joints. Typically symptoms begin to develop in the 40’s and 50’s and the disparity between the sexes becomes even greater after age 55 when women go through menopause. What accounts for this difference between men and women and what can we do about it?

Obesity: Excess body weight is the single biggest risk factor for developing OA(osteoarthritis) in both men and women. The increased weight causes increased stress on all of the weight-bearing joints leading to a faster breakdown.


Anatomy: Anatomically, women’s hips are wider than men’s. This results in a bigger angle from hips to knees, putting more stress on the knee joints. Women are also more likely to develop the patellofemoral syndrome, in which the kneecap does not glide smoothly and rubs on the end of the leg bone, causing pain and wear and tear on the joint. These anatomy issues are often exaggerated by the wearing of high heels.


Hormones: The role of estrogen and progesterone in OA remains unclear. However, recent studies have shown that HRT(hormone replacement therapy) may have a protective effect on joint health in women. Research is continuing on this subject. The hormone relaxin, which is increased during pregnancy and responsible for making the joints laxer, may also be implicated in increasing the risk for women to develop OA, as joint instability often results in arthritic changes to joints.


Sports: The increase in girls playing high school and collegiate sports over the last two decades means more females are experiencing sports injuries, especially ACL tears(which female athletes experience at greater rates than their male counterparts). This injury on its own increases the risk of osteoarthritis, even if the injury is repaired. One study found that among female soccer players who had ACL injuries, more than half developed signs of OA within 12 years. Essentially, any instability in the knee generates more wear and tear on the joint over time.


So what can we do about it? All ages should take precautions to reduce their risk of developing osteoarthritis as well as managing symptoms if you have already begun experiencing OA issues. The most effective thing you can do for your joint health is to get regular, moderate exercise. This helps manage OA symptoms in a variety of ways. It helps you achieve and maintain healthy body weight to reduce the obesity risk factor. Exercise helps you stay strong and flexible to reduce the risk of injury as well as reduce joint pain, improve your balance, combat fatigue and maintain bone health, all of which will have beneficial effects on overall joint health. Light to moderate exercises such as walking, biking, swimming, and weight training can all provide benefits. While you may think that exercise will aggravate your joint pain, research has shown over and over again that joint pain associated with OA is typically reduced with exercise. Lack of exercise can make your joints even more stiff and painful. To get guidance on how to begin an exercise program that is safe and effective, see our physical therapists to determine the best course of therapy for you.


Stephany Primrose, P.T.