How Does Osteoarthritis Affect Women Differently?

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting over 30 million adults. It’s commonly thought of as the “wear and tear” arthritis or degenerative joint disease. Young people can get it, but it most often affects middle-aged and older adults. 

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage, which covers the ends of the bones in the joints, starts to wear down. This causes bones to knock against each other, creating inflammation, stiffness, and a reshaping of your bones. Common symptoms of osteoarthritis include pain, swelling, stiffness, and decreased flexibility. These symptoms usually come on gradually.

Women are at a higher risk than men for developing osteoarthritis, as well as other forms of arthritis. So, being an older woman is a double whammy when it comes to developing osteoarthritis.

Why osteoarthritis is more common in women than men

Of the million adults who have arthritis, about 60 % of them are women. Many factors make women more prone to developing osteoarthritis. These factors include:

Body mechanics

Women’s hips are wider to allow for childbirth and, therefore, their knees don’t line up beneath their hips as men do. As a result, women tend to get more knee injuries. Previous knee injuries are a risk factor for developing osteoarthritis later in life. Additionally, the tendons in their lower body tend to be more flexible, again, to make childbirth easier. More elasticity and flexibility can make your lower body less stable and more prone to injury.

Obesity

Excess weight can put pressure on your joints and lead to more wear and tear than people with less body weight. Women have a higher rate of obesity and severe obesity than men.

Hormones

Research shows that estrogen tends to have protective qualities on your cartilage and joints. During menopause, when women’s estrogen levels go down, their risk for osteoarthritis goes up.

How osteoarthritis affects women differently than men

Not only do women develop osteoarthritis more than men, but they also tend to develop it later in life and in different places. Women tend to develop osteoarthritis later than men do, probably because of their higher protective estrogen levels when they’re younger.

But when they do get it, often after menopause, it’s more painful. Women’s pain scores are consistently higher than the men’s scores. Additionally, women tend to develop osteoarthritis in their hands and knees and men in their hips. 

Osteoarthritis treatment options

At Chicago Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, fellowship-trained orthopaedic surgeon Vasili Karas, MD, MS, recommends non-surgical interventions first, such as physical therapy and joint injections, to help relieve joint pain and stiffness.

If conservative treatment options don’t provide you with satisfactory symptom relief, Dr. Karas may recommend full or partial joint replacement. 

For more information on preventing and treating osteoarthritis call or make an appointment online with Dr. Karas at Chicago Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. 

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