When people say “arthritis,” they’re usually referring to osteoarthritis (OA), which is the most common form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a wear-and-tear condition that impacts millions of women and men in the United States.
However, this common condition isn’t an equal-opportunity disease. Instead, OA affects women up to 350% more often than men. The difference only increases with age.
At Health Solutions, our expert medical professionals offer women’s health services, including arthritis care. We’ve developed an informative guide that outlines the information you need about OA and how it could affect you as a woman.
What is OA?
Osteoarthritis is a wear-and-tear condition that occurs due to the constant use of your joints, which degrades away the cartilage that protects them. Although OA is most often an issue for aging adults, it can begin in your 40s. Arthritis is the leading cause of disability for people under 65.
When your cartilage degrades, your bones are exposed and rub together. The deterioration of your cartilage also triggers changes in your entire joint. Even the connective tissues that hold the joint together and keep your muscle attached to your bone disintegrates.
Symptoms of OA include:
- Loss of flexibility
- Grating sensations
- Popping or crackling noises
Untreated OA can also trigger the growth of bone spurs. Bone spurs are extra pieces of bone that feel like hard lumps, around the affected joint. Your body produces them in an attempt to protect your joints, but they can actually cause more pain.
Why women are susceptible to OA
Differences in women’s and men’s anatomical structures, as well as their hormones, help account for why women are more affected by osteoarthritis than men. Following are some factors that influence this degenerative disease:
1. Body mechanics
As a woman, you have wider hips than a man so that you can give birth to children. However, your knees don’t align under your hips the way they do in men.
Misaligned knees trigger a higher number of knee injuries in women, particularly female athletes. You also have more flexible tendons in your hips, which make childbirth easier. However, the added flexibility also increases the risk of injury to joints in the lower body. Joint injuries in adolescence and early adulthood are one of the biggest risk factors for OA.
2. Obesity adds to OA
If you’re overweight or obese, you’re 4-5 times more likely to develop OA than the general population. Women are more likely than men to carry excess weight. Researchers believe that women struggle with a healthy body weight for a number of reasons, including:
- Women naturally have more body fat
- Women have a low resting metabolism
- Women gain fat in areas that are more difficult to lose
- Women endure more hormonal changes
Extra weight stresses your joints simply by adding stress and increasing the wear-and-tear in the joint. However, research indicates that carrying too many pounds also triggers a “circulating systemic factor.” This factor is linked to a faster breakdown of cartilage and an increase in OA.
3. Blame it on your hormones
Your hormones are behind your tendency to carry more excess weight than men. You also women experience many more hormonal changes and fluctuations. Hormonal imbalances increase the likelihood of developing OA.
During your menstrual cycle, hormone levels fluctuate and increase joint laxity. Joint laxity is linked to instability and injury in the joints. Both conditions are associated with a higher risk of developing OA later in life.
You’re not safe once your period stops, either. Menopause triggers hormonal changes, including a drop in estrogen. Joint pain and symptoms tend to increase after menopause. Lower estrogen levels may accelerate the development of OA.
Get your OA treated
At Health Solutions, we create a customized treatment plan for your OA. We take a holistic approach to medicine, which means we treat your entire body to increase its health, including the health of your joints. We may recommend:
- Osteopathic manipulation
- Hormone therapy
- Massage therapy
- Physical therapy
- Weight loss
- Increasing exercise
- Dietary changes
- Joint injections
If you have arthritis, or if you want to prevent OA, contact the Health Solutions office nearest you. We have four Greater Chicago office locations in Munster, Indiana, and Tinley Park, Rockford, and Olympia Fields, Illinois.