Osteoarthritis and arthritis: it's not only older people who are at risk 9 months ago

Osteoarthritis and arthritis: it's not only older people who are at risk

"It does affect every day activities that we take for granted."

October 12 is World Arthritis Day.

An incredibly common condition, it currently affects one in five people living in Ireland today. Despite this, our understanding of arthritis - and osteoarthritis - can sometimes be lacking.

Senior lecturer in physiotherapy at RCSI and musculoskeletal clinical specialist Dr Helen French says that the most common myth about osteoarthritis is that it only affects older people.

And the second most common myth is that all older people are bound to get it.

“We think about osteoarthritis as only affecting older people, but we’d like to get the message across that that’s not just the case," she says.

"People have a fear of osteoarthritis, or they think it’s normal if you’re old and that it’s just part of regular ageing - but it’s not.

"Joint replacement is for the minority, not everybody will have to have a joint replaced."

In Ireland, one in five people will be diagnosed with some form of arthritis in their lifetime.

Women are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with osteoarthritis too, with 18 percent of arthritis patients in Ireland being less than 55 years old.

The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, causes damage to joints by wearing down the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones.

It tends to relate to joints in the knees, hips, and spine more severely, but any joint in the body can be affected by the condition.

“There’s a few different risk factors," says Dr French. "Sometimes it’s genetics, other times it’s obesity because weight is a critical factor."

"It could also be caused by a hormonal influence though there isn’t substantive evidence to prove that."

Dr French says that despite misconceptions about the condition, more and more people under the age of 45 are being diagnosed with osteoarthritis.

A lot of them are young women and - in particular - young sporting women.

"Not a lot of women think about this," she says. "Sportswomen would be high risk because if you’re a high level athlete and you’re doing a twisting-turning sport like soccer or rugby, then you can easily injure the ligaments in your knee or your ankle.

"Men can often get similar injuries playing the likes of GAA, but it is more common in women because of our biomechanics and because of the way we move.

"Research has shown that young sportswomen are more at risk of developing osteoarthritis 10 years after they start playing (...) but the key message we’re trying to get across is that preventative measures are possible."

Osteoarthritis affects a person's day-to-day life. Everything from getting up in the morning to getting out of a chair to driving a car can be affected by the condition.

The stiffness caused by joint movement can also have a knock on effect on how a person partakes in hobbies or sport - and even on how they do their job.

"It does affect every day activities that we take for granted," says Dr French. "You can have a really high quality of life with osteoarthritis, but to ensure this we need to have a better understanding of the condition, as well as how to manage it."

There are three core recommendations for dealing with osteoarthritis as a young person.

The first is weight management as obesity has been proven to increase a person's risk of developing the condition.

The second is exercise and the third is self-management, with medication to ease the symptoms of the condition being on the second line of control.

Dr French says that another one of the most common myths abut osteoarthritis is that you shouldn't exercise when you have it when, in fact, you should.

"You should exercise more than normal," she says. "You may need to go to a physiotherapist and get an individual approach to suit your needs and make sure you’re doing the right type of exercise, like a specific strengthening exercise.

"The needs should suit the person, but you should definitely be doing it.

You can find out more about osteoarthritis via Arthritis Ireland here.  

If you are concerned about your health, you should always contact your GP.