When you ask most people about the causes of osteoarthritis of the knee, the general consensus is that the condition is an inevitable result of wear-and-tear. Logically, then, there would be two factors that would increase your risk for osteoarthritis of the knee: advanced age and high body mass index. However, new research on osteoarthritis suggests that there is more to it than that.
Upending the Conventional Wisdom on Osteoarthritis
In August 2017, a group of human evolutionary biologists at Harvard University published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the causes of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis of the knee has been around for almost as long as mankind itself, so the researchers had ample data to work with — they looked at skeletons from a wide range of historical periods — from pre-historic Inuit hunter-gatherers from around 4000 B.C. to skeletons from people who died in Tennessee in 2015. Surprisingly, their results indicated that the overall prevalence of osteoarthritis had more than doubled since the 1950’s. Even more shocking, that was true even when the researchers corrected for age and body mass index.
If wear-and-tear was the main cause of osteoarthritis, it would mean that older adults would be more likely to get osteoarthritis, since their knees had been subject to strain for more years. Similarly, people who carry more weight would be at higher risk for osteoarthritis, since their knees would be subject to a larger amount of strain every time they took a step. But because the study corrected for these variables, the researchers had to conclude that something else must be playing a role in the increasing prevalence of knee osteoarthritis in humans in the 21st century.
What Might Be Contributing to the Increase in the Prevalence of Knee Osteoarthritis
The researchers at Harvard did not conduct rigorous research to determine why knee osteoarthritis was so much more common 21st century humans, as compared to our ancestors from previous decades, centuries, and millennia. However, they did use their expertise in human evolutionary biology to make a few predictions:
- Sedentary lifestyle. People today are exercising less and sitting more, even as kids. The researchers believe that spending childhood playing video games and adulthood working at a desk may be impacting the way that our joints are forming, developing, and aging over time. A lack of regular exercise may also be preventing adequate diffusion of nutrient to the joints that need them.
- Poor nutrition. Of course, in order for the necessary nutrients to diffuse into the joints, people need to be taking them in to begin with, but that is not always the case in the 21st century. Thus, the Harvard researchers believe that dietary factors may be playing a role in the increase in knee osteoarthritis. For many people, food is more abundant and accessible than it was in prehistoric days, but poor food choices can lead to nutrient deficiencies that negatively impact overall health, including joint health.
- Sports injuries. Alongside the rise in the prevalence of knee osteoarthritis, there has also been an increase in sports-related injuries. From high school athletes to competitive collegiates to casual joggers to serial road racers, the number of people who report sports injuries each year is on the rise. According to the researchers at Harvard, suffering from a sports injury could contribute to the development of osteoarthritis.
Strategies for Preventing Knee Osteoarthritis
Based on the ideas of the Harvard researchers, there are a variety of things you can do to lower your risk of knee osteoarthritis, even though you live in the 21st century. The most obvious, of course, is to exercise! But that doesn’t mean you have to take up intensive exercise similar to that of prehistoric humans. There are lots of alternative workout options that get your joints moving in a healthy way, such as gentle yoga. Getting a regular massage may also help promote the diffusion of nutrients to the joints.
There are also certain nutritional supplements that can support joint health. For example, omega-3 fatty acid supplements serve to lubricate the joints, reducing the aggravation that can lead to osteoarthritis flare-ups. If you are concerned about your overall nutrient intake, you might also want to consider meal replacement powders. Today’s functional food formulas ensure that you get the proteins, vitamins, and minerals you need — without having to spend time cooking up complex meals.
When it comes to sports injuries, many of the most common problems are preventable. For instance, if your foot over-pronates when you run, it can lead to a wide range of nagging injuries that can keep you off the playing field or the running track. One way to resolve this problem is to get a custom foot orthotic. Custom orthotics can also help improve your form in order to support peak athletic performance.
Atlanta Chiropractic and Wellness offers a wide range of products and services that can assist in the prevention and treatment of knee osteoarthritis. Contact us today for more information!Share