How Does a Person Get Osteoarthritis?

Ask a Doctor

I’ve just been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, and I think it’s probably because I was a carpenter all my life. Can swinging a hammer all day give you arthritis? How do you get osteoarthritis?

Doctor’s Response

Chronic, repetitive motion, or micro trauma, is one cause of osteoarthritis. It is by no means the only one, however. The causes of osteoarthritis include the following:

  • Endocrine: People with diabetes may be prone to osteoarthritis. Other endocrine problems also may promote osteoarthritis development, including acromegaly, hypothyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, and obesity.
  • Posttraumatic: Traumatic causes can be further divided into macrotrauma or microtrauma. An example of macrotrauma is an injury to the joint such as a bone break, causing the bones to line up improperly (malalignment), lose stability, or damage cartilage. Microtrauma may occur over time (chronically). An example of this would be repetitive movements or the overuse noted in several occupations.
  • Inflammatory joint diseases: This category would include infected joints, chronic gout, and rheumatoid disease.
  • Metabolic: Diseases causing errors of metabolism may cause osteoarthritis. Examples include Paget's disease and Wilson disease.
  • Congenital or developmental: Abnormal anatomy such as unequal leg length may be a cause of osteoarthritis.
  • Genetic: A genetic defect may promote breakdown of the protective architecture of cartilage. Examples include collagen disturbances such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
  • Neuropathic: Diseases such as diabetes can cause nerve problems. The loss of sensation may affect how the body knows the position and condition of the joints or limbs. In other words, the body can't tell when it is injured.
  • Other: Nutritional problems may cause osteoarthritis. Other diseases such as hemophilia and sickle cell are further examples.

For more information, read our full medical article on osteoarthritis.

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References
Klippel, John H., et al., eds. Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases. 13th ed. New York: Springer and Arthritis Foundation, 2008

Rennie, N.G., et al. "Presence of Gout Is Associated with Increased Osteoarthritis Prevalence and Severity." Arthritis and Rheumatism 63.10 Oct. 2011.