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Osteoarthritis: Care across the Lifespan

by Margaret Vence

We often think of arthritis as a disease that strikes the elderly. However, research shows that osteoarthritis can be diagnosed in individuals as early as twenty five years of age. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease characterized by progressive loss of the cartilage of joints. It is the most common joint disorder in the US and is the leading cause of chronic pain and disability among adults. By 2040, an estimated 26% of US adults are projected to have arthritis due to the aging of the population and the obesity epidemic.

The risk factors associated with osteoarthritis include:

Genetics: 30% of cases are likely to be a genetic cause

Gender: women are more likely to have osteoarthritis than men

Age:  approximately 33% of individuals > 65 years of age will have a diagnosis of osteoarthritis

Injury: those with a prior injury have a 25% increased risk of osteoarthritis

Occupation: jobs with a heavy physical workload lead to an increased risk of osteoarthritis

Obesity: those who are obese have a three-fold increase in the risk of osteoarthritis

Treatment for osteoarthritis has centered on management of the disease including medication, braces, injections and physical therapy. Although osteoarthritis does not always require surgery, it is estimated there will be a 200-400% increase in total joint replacement surgeries by 2030.

Some newer treatment regimens aim to avert the onset of osteoarthritis. FIFA (Federation International Football Association) has developed a program used by countless amateur recreation and professional major league teams to warm-up prior to playing. Research shows a 30-40% decrease in severity and incidence of injury with use of this prevention model.  There are also wellness/prevention programs to evaluate and make recommendations for exercise regimens and activities to prevent and reduce the incidence of osteoarthritis. Wellness programs also include education on nutrition to combat obesity and resources for treatment and care of the emotional aspects of the disease.

Awareness of risk factors and a holistic approach to patient evaluation and care can help you and your physical therapist develop a program to reduce pain, improve function and protect against onset and or progression of osteoarthritis across the lifespan.