risk factors for knee osteoarthritis

Knee osteoarthritis affects more than 10% of people over age 60. Researchers recently identified those groups with higher risk factors for knee osteoarthritis.

Musculoskeletal conditions, such as knee osteoarthritis (OA), affect people worldwide and are one of the leading causes of pain and disability. Knee osteoarthritis can affect any age group, but people over age 60 have a higher risk of knee osteoarthritis and more than 10% of this population suffers from knee OA.

Knee OA develops when the cartilage in the knee begins to deteriorate. Cartilage in the knee acts as a cushion between the bones in the knee, providing a smooth, lubricated surface to move against.

Knee OA causes pain in the knee joint and limits activities the sufferer can participate in. Knee pain is usually treated with medications that often do not completely relieve the suffering. Continued pain can lead to depression in knee OA patients, leading to a lower quality of life experienced.

Knee osteoarthritis can develop in many different ways and have many different symptoms. Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland patients with knee OA, the results of which could potentially help to identify modifications that can be made to improve the quality of life experienced by sufferers of knee OA. The results of the study were recently published in PLOS ONE.

Researchers used data from 3,053 participants in the Osteoarthritis Initiative (OAI) database study on knee OA. These participants had significant knee OA at the beginning of the study and did not have knee replacement surgery. They were given a health-related quality of life score at the beginning of the study to grade their experience and pain due to knee OA.

The participants then made follow-up visits over the next eight years to assess their knee OA, pain levels and self-perceived quality of life. If a participant had knee replacement surgery during the study, their data was not used after the knee replacement. The data were statistically analyzed and group-based trajectory models were developed for the health-related quality of life scores.

Four group-based trajectory model groups were identified: no change, improving, slowly worsening, and rapidly worsening. Overweight, low-income women who smoked had higher risk factors for knee osteoarthritis and were more likely to be in the rapidly worsening group.

Although those that are an older age were more likely to develop OA, those in the oldest age group, 65-79, were not in the rapidly worsening group. The researchers think this is because older people are more accustomed to general aches and pains and have developed a tolerance to living with daily pain.

The researchers also found that participants in the rapidly worsening group were more likely to eventually have knee replacement surgery compared to the no-change group. Members of the slowly and rapidly worsening groups were also more likely to use pain medication frequently.

Researchers hope the study results will help doctors plan and develop interventions for knee OA sufferers. Using the data, doctors can determine people with higher risk factors for knee osteoarthritis and improve their quality of life through and early intervention treatment program.

Written by Rebecca K. Blankenship, B.Sc.


  1. Törmälehto S, Aarnio E, Mononen M, Arokoski J, Korhonen R, Martikainen J. Eight-year trajectories of changes in health-related quality of life in knee osteoarthritis: Data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative (OAI). PLoS ONE. 2019;14(7):e0219902. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0219902
  2. Musculoskeletal conditions. Who.int. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/musculoskeletal-conditions. Published 2019. Accessed August 9, 2019.
  3. Osteoarthritis (OA) | Basics | Arthritis | CDC. Cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/osteoarthritis.htm. Published 2019. Accessed August 10, 2019.

Image by Wolfgang Claussen from Pixabay

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