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Can OA Affect Young Healthy Individuals?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), osteoarthritis (OA) affects a whopping 27 million Americans. Though OA is common, it is still somewhat misunderstood. While people tend to know that the degenerative joint condition affects more women than men, only some realize that it can affect young people too.

When we hear the word “arthritis,” many of us still think exclusively of the elderly population. But that stereotype is changing. From numerous risk factors that can affect people of any age to promising new research, the topic of OA in healthy young people is no longer in the dark.

Symptoms

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that cushions the joints wears down and a person’s bones rub together. This can cause:

  • Aching
  • Inflammation
  • Limited range of motion
  • Pain
  • Stiffness

Naturally, the cartilage in older individuals has had more total time to wear down. However, young people are still susceptible to a variety of OA risk factors.

Risk Factors

There are many different aspects of a person’s life that can influence whether or not they will one day be diagnosed with osteoarthritis. After age 55, being female becomes a risk factor, but the following are applicable to individuals of any age.

Genetics

Over 50% of all OA cases are linked to a hereditary disposition. In those with a certain genotype, the interleukin-1 gene cluster indicates a twofold risk of OA. This gene cluster is a key regulator in several chronic disease processes.

If OA runs in your family, it’s smart to stay ahead of the curve. People whose parents, grandparents or siblings have OA should always check in with their doctor regarding joint pain, rather than dismissing it as a commonplace occurrence that “happens to everyone.” (That being said, even if OA doesn’t necessarily run in your family, it usually pays to play it safe.)

This strong genetic risk factor is the reason why official OA diagnosis and subsequent treatment plans involve not only a physical examination, but also an assessment of you and your family’s medical history.

Weight

An individual of any age can struggle with being overweight or obese, and this added stress on his or her body becomes a major risk factor for osteoarthritis.

Excess body weight means additional pressure on a person’s joints, especially the:

  • Back
  • Hips
  • Knees

That being said, don’t attempt weight loss just because you have joint pain! It’s important to schedule a doctor’s appointment to find out:

  • Whether your joint pain is linked to OA
  • Whether you actually need to shed any pounds

If you your doctor recommends losing some weight, he or she will be able to help you come up with a plan of action. Your physician will provide you with arthritis-fighting diet and exercise tips that are perfectly tailored to your unique needs.

Sports Injuries

Osteoarthritis in young people is frequently a direct result of a trauma. Young, healthy individuals are a demographic that tends to be out on the court, field, track or gym. Unfortunately sometimes their fitness adventures result in injury.

Healthy young runner smiles as she runs a race

Common sports injuries that can lead to OA include:

  • dislocated joints
  • ligament injuries
  • torn cartilage

Needless to say, sports injuries can happen to people of any age. According to a research study published in Open Orthopaedics Journal, sports-related knee traumas are particularly problematic. Injuries such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) strains and tears have been linked to an increased risk of later developing OA.

Remember that injuries like these don’t always involve sports!

The repetitive joint strain required by certain jobs can also cause cartilage to wear down at a faster rate. Consequently, if your career involves regular physical labor, you might develop OA prematurely. In additional to obvious physical labor like hammering nails or carrying heavy objects, occupation-related OA can be linked to actions like:

  • Climbing stairs
  • Kneeling
  • Squatting
  • Standing

These career-related factors can also impact individuals of any age.

New Research from UVA

Doctors at the The University of Virginia are conducting a long-term study on athletes who developed arthritis at a young age. Their mission is to learn more about OA and prevent the condition in patients.

In an editorial, athletic trainer and associate professor of kinesiology Joseph M. Hart explored how athletic trainers will play a pivotal role in helping prevent and treat OA. The piece, which was co-written by kinesiologists Abbey Thomas and Jeffrey Driban, calls attention to the fact that OA is affecting patients at younger ages than doctors once believed was even possible.

Their Journal of Athletic Training article states, “Contrary to what many believe, osteoarthritis is not just a normal wear-and-tear process that affects the body’s joints only in the elderly. A 17-year-old athlete who tears her anterior cruciate ligament could develop osteoarthritis before she turns 30, potentially leading to chronic pain and disability, which could prevent her from remaining physically active and limit her ability to work or perform other daily activities.”

A Life Changed for the Better

Chad Wollerton, age 50, is one of the patients in the study. Wollerton tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) while martial arts training in 2008, and tore the other side six years later. His signs of OA began after the first injury and worsened with the second, but thanks to his role in the study, he is still active.

“We want to identify how strong and how symmetric someone needs to be to prevent additional problems after reconstruction. Our study is aimed at helping patients, doctors, coaches … to make recommendations for what a person needs to do to prevent further injury,” Hart said.

For Wollerton, these efforts are working! Though he can’t train as hard as he used to, he is still able to work out several times a week. The UVA study has forever changed his life for the better.  Talk about a great reason to participate in a clinical research trial!

(To learn more about UVA’s study, check out this great article!) 

The Next Potential Success Story

Wollerton’s experience has proved life-changing, and his clinical research story is one of many. In fact, 95% of clinical research volunteers end up so happy with their experience that they would consider volunteering again!

Osteoarthritis is a painful and debilitating condition. The doctors and staff here at our facility believe that no one of any age or walk of life should have to suffer. That’s why we’re conducting osteoarthritis clinical research trials right here in the Birmingham area! If you have OA and want to know more, please fill out the short form on the righthand side of this page or give us a call at (205) 757-8208. We are working hard in the fight against OA and would love to hear from our fellow warriors.

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