Causes Of Arthritis
Fixed And Changeable Risk Factors For Women

what are the causes of arthritis?


Causes Of Arthritis


What Causes Arthritis?
Modifiable Lifestyle Risk Factors
Fixed Risk Factors

Arthritis Overview
Guide to Arthritis

What Causes Arthritis?

There is no one cause of arthritis, primarily because there are nearly 200 types of arthritis. For example a sports injury can lead to osteoarthritis (degenerative arthritis), an infection contracted through a wound can lead to infectious arthritis and a bad diet can lead to bouts of gout and severe arthritic pain in the big toe. That said several risk factors have been identified which can increase a person's chance of developing the various forms of arthritis. Some risk factors are modifiable (arising from lifestyle choices) while others are fixed (the ones you can do nothing about).

Modifiable Risk Factors

Body Weight

Excess body weight can damage load-bearing joints (knees, ankles, hips) prompting the development of osteoarthritis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 66 percent of adults with an arthritis diagnosis are overweight or obese. Research shows that for every pound a person is over weight, converts to 3-4 pounds of extra weight on the knees while walking. For those already diagnosed with arthritis, this excess weight can increase inflammation and pain. In contrast, losing 10 pounds of body fat relieves the weight-bearing joints of an extra 30-50 pounds of stress. This is why doctors recommend weight loss to those who are overweight with arthritis. Studies also show that slow, healthy weight loss (1-2 pounds a week) can also slow the progression of the disease.
As a preventative measure, maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) of 20 to 25, lowers the risk of developing osteoarthritis, in particular of the knee. For any questions on this and other health topics see our section Womens Health Questions.

Previous Injury

An injury to a joint, caused by an accident or sports injury for example, can develop into osteoarthritis (such as hip arthritis). When a joint is injured the cartilage, which cushions the bones and prevents them from rubbing together, breaks down. Eventually the bones start rubbing together causing inflammation and pain. According to researchers at Duke University Medical Center about 10 percent of all arthritis cases occur because of traumatic injury. Many occur in younger people who may suffer from pain for years because they are too young to be a candidate for joint replacement surgery. Researchers also suggest that anti-inflammatory therapies, if applied correctly after a fracture or break, could significantly reduce the risk of arthritis developing in many of these cases. According the Arthritis Foundation this category of patients cost about $12.8 billion a year through medical arthritis treatment and loss of productivity.

Work Hazards

Those employed in specific industries and jobs may be at risk of developing some types of arthritis. These are primarily jobs which require repetitive motions, like assembly line jobs or physical work such as construction jobs (where repetitive strain injury is common). One of the most common types of arthritis in this category is basal joint arthritis (or thumb arthritis). The basal joint is located where the thumb and wrist meet, the joint is also known as the carpometacarpal (CMC) joint. Arthritis in this part of the body can make even everyday tasks like opening a jar impossible (fortunately arthritis equipment options are available to make those tasks easier). According to data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey–Occupational Health Supplement (2002) the highest occurrences of hand-wrist arthritis occurred among machine operators, technicians, assembly workers and farmers; as well as those working in the construction, agriculture and mining industries. Of those diagnosed with arthritis of the hands, just over 7 percent made major changes in their work practice, 7 percent missed work, and 4.5 percent stopped working or moved jobs altogether because of the problem. The study also highlighted modifiable ergonomic factors which could be introduced into the workplace to help prevent occurrences in the future.

Competitive High-Level Sports

Contrary to popular myth, regular exercise and sports does not cause arthritis, but can actually help prevent it. In particular weight bearing exercises like running, jogging and walking help protect bones and joints, as well as reduce the risk of developing heart disease in women, diabetes and many other nasty conditions. However, according to the Arthritis Research Campaign, while exercise is important for maintaining general health, it is important not to over do it. This was in comment to a study published in 2010 by the Universities of Tsukuba, Waseda and Tokyo in Japan which indicated that teenagers who played competitive sports since childhood face a higher risk of lower back pain. They found that nearly 72 percent of students who played the most sport reported lower back pain compared to 62 percent of those that played moderate sport. Those who play contact sports like rugby and football may develop problems, such as knee arthritis, if they receive injuries to the joints.


Septic/infectious arthritis can be caused by an infection contracted through an open wound or during surgery. The risks are increased for those who had recent joint injuries, undergone surgery, experienced a chronic illness such as sickle cell disease or diabetes or those who have had a bacterial infection in some part of the body. Gonococcal arthritis for example is a bacterial infectious type of arthritis that can appear in those infected with gonorrhea. Fortunately most septic forms arthritis are non chronic (not long-term) and are highly curable.
See also signs of arthritis.

Diet & Food Triggers

The majority of people with osteoarthritis eat too many acid-forming foods, such as dairy and meat products, cakes, white bread, pizzas and cookies. As part of a natural treatment for arthritis those with the disease are frequently told to eat fewer nightshade vegetables, like tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant which may act as pain triggers. Degenerative conditions like arthritis are also linked to diets low in fiber.

Texting Thumb

More and more studies are starting to emerge about the long term consequences of use of modern everyday communication devices. Excessive texting, may eventually lead to tendonitis or even thumb arthritis. Young people may be slightly less at risk because there is more fluid around their joints. The older we get, the less fluid there tends to be. This is why we are starting to hear about Blackberry thumb, a device more traditionally used by older people in business (well past their teenage years). Blackberry thumb in a condition where pain occurs in the thumb joint caused by excessive texting. According to a professor at Cornell University a Blackberry is more demanding than texting because users tend to type out emails, requiring more thumb movement. As of writing this article, no medical cases have yet presented themselves.

Fixed Risk Factors


If my parents have arthritis, will I develop it too? An important question and one which scientists are still not quite prepared to answer. As more studies are carried out, a genetic factor certainly seems to be emerging. For example, 90 percent of those with ankylosing spondylitis, a type of arthritis, have a gene known as HLA-B27 - while only 7 percent of the general population carries the gene. Scientists have also discovered a link between rheumatoid arthritis and a gene called HLA-DR. Genetic mutations may also play a factor. In fact it is suspected that nearly a quarter of all osteoarthritis patients may have a specific gene mutation which can cause the breakdown of joint cartilage prematurely. In 2007 researchers published findings in the New England Journal of Medicine of 2 additional genetic mutations which appear to raise the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. People with STAT4 mutation have a 60 percent greater chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis as well as an increased risk of lupus. Those with TRAF1-C5 appear to have an 87 percent increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. If you feel this may be an issue, talking to a genetic counselor about possible genetic testing may be beneficial.


In 2007–2009, 50 percent of adults Americans 65 years or older were diagnosed with arthritis. There is no doubt that age plays a factor in the occurrence of certain types of arthritis. In particular older people are more prone to osteoarthritis which is associated with wear and tear (while aggravated by the presence of obesity). In fact, the vast majority of arthritis diagnosis, 27 million adults in America in 2005, was of osteoarthritis. Yet, arthritis is not just an older person's condition. About 294,000 children under age 18 have some form of rheumatic condition or arthritis which represents approximately 1 in every 250 children in America.


Women statistically are more likely than men to develop arthritis. According to the CDC over 24 million women in America are diagnosed with arthritis compared with 17 million men. The effects of hormones fluctuations on body tissue and bones, in particular estrogen, seem to be one likely explanation for the differentiation. As well as hormones, physical size and shape may also play a role: according to a study carried out by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, female athletes are 4 to 8 times more likely to injure their knee than a male athlete, particularly when playing basketball. These are the sorts of injuries that can become arthritic over time. But according to some studies, you do not have to be an athlete to be at risk. Studies also show that perimenopause women in with low levels of estrogen were 2 or 3 times more likely to develop a knee injury over a 3 year period than women with higher levels of the hormone. Read more about the effects of estrogen on the female body.

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