My Mother has recently begun to complain more and more about arthritis pain. At best, she is slow moving these days and professes fear of falling. But she has frequently mentioned arthritic pain in her knees, which hurts when bending or attempting stairs.

So I started to do a bit of research…what is arthritis? And what are the causes?

According to various informational sources (including WebMD), arthritis is a musculoskeletal disorder. It is a disease which can destroy joints, bones, muscles, cartilage and other connective tissues of the body. Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the oldest and most common forms of arthritis and is a chronic condition characterized by the breakdown of the joint’s cartilage, which is the soft tissue “cushion” providing ease of movement for bones which are connected at bodily joints. The breakdown of cartilage causes the bones to rub against each other, which can create stiffness, swelling, pain and loss of movement in the joint.

There are many kinds of arthritis. The most commonly identified are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. But actually, there are over 100 different diseases or conditions which are labelled “arthritis”. Unfortunately, the cause of arthritis is not known. And there is no known cure.

Different factors may play a role in whether or not you get osteoarthritis, including age, obesity, injury, joint stress caused by overuse, and your genetic make-up. Your arthritis could be caused by any one or by a combination of these factors:

Age: Incidences of osteoarthritis increase as you age. “Wear and tear” does play a part in the development of osteoarthritis – the older you are, the more you have used your joints. Although age is an important risk factor, it doesn’t mean that osteoarthritis is inevitable.

Obesity: Increased body weight is a serious factor in the development of osteoarthritis, particularly in your knees, which carry the brunt of your weight day in and day out. For every pound you gain, you add four pounds of pressure on your knees and six times the pressure on your hips. Research suggests that excess body fat produces chemicals that travel throughout the body and cause joint damage, which would mean obesity plays a systemic, not just a mechanical, role in osteoarthritis onset.

Injury or Overuse: Athletes and people who have jobs that require doing repetitive motion, such as landscaping, typing or machine operating, have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis due to injury and increased stress on certain joints. Osteoarthritis also develops in later years in joints where bones have been fractured or surgery has occurred.

Genetics or Heredity: Genetic make-up plays a role in the development of osteoarthritis, particularly in the hands. Inherited abnormalities of the bones that affect the shape or stability of the joints and can lead to osteoarthritis. Just because you have one of these inherited traits, doesn’t mean that you are going to develop osteoarthritis. But elders should be aware and informed regarding their health and body. Have your doctor check more closely and more frequently for signs and symptoms of the disease.

Muscle Weakness: As we have stated on many other blog entries, muscle strength and exercise for our elderly parents is very important. Studies of the knee muscles not only show that weakness of the muscles surrounding the knee can lead to osteoarthritis, but that strengthening exercises for thigh muscles are important in reducing the risk.