We now twice as likely to get arthritis than our grandparents were, a new study reveals.
Harvard scientists examined more than 2,000 skeletons from deceased patients over the last 100 years to track how rates of knee osteoarthritis have changed in people.
They found remains from the most recent generations were doubly likely to have eburnation, a glass-like polish typical of arthritis.
Experts warn the increase is likely driven by rising rates of inactivity today – rather than higher obesity rates and longer lifespans – since the disease is increasingly common in young and slender people.
Experts say that knee osteoarthritis is twice as more likely in Americans today due to people living longer, obesity and inactivity. Experts want society to start focusing on the prevention of this disease instead of thinking that it will just inevitably happen
It is the first study to show that knee osteoarthritis has significantly increased.
Now, knee osteoarthritis happens in an estimated one-third of Americans over 60 and is responsible for more disability than any other musculoskeletal disorder.
The study’s first author Ian Wallace said: ‘We were able to show, for the first time, that this pervasive cause of pain is actually twice as common today than even in the recent past.
‘People become less active, which can lead to a host of other problems, and their health ends up declining at a more rapid rate.’
How YOU can prevent knee osteoarthritis and stay active in a work environment
Maintain a healthy weight
Weight is key to keeping your limbs safe and protected. Try and focus on foods you eat if you anticipate sitting for most of your work day. Avoid drinks that are high in sugar and have healthy snacks on hand such as nuts or fruit.
Take a short walk every hour
Being active is key to keep your joints moving. Use your coffee or bathroom break as an excuse to take a couple laps around the office. Not only will it free up your mind for more work ahead, but it will also get the blood flowing in your body.
Exercise 30 minutes a day
This sounds like a lot but it is manageable if you lead a busy life. Low-impact exercise is important if you have stiffness or pain in your joints. Yoga, water aeorbics and cycling ease up on your joints and give you a good workout.
Control your blood sugar
That candy bar might seem like a good idea if you’ve hit the 3pm slump but its not. High sugar levels can cause the cartilage in your limbs to stiffen and create inflammation. If you’re looking for energy, eat red peppers and hummus or almonds for that boost.
The authors want people to focus on efforts to prevent the disease, like we do with heart disease, instead of thinking it is an inevitable consequence of aging.
‘There are a lot of well-understood risk factors for heart disease, so doctors can advise their patients to do certain things to decrease their chances of getting it,’ Lieberman said.
‘We think knee osteoarthritis belongs in the same category because it’s evidently more preventable than commonly assumed. But to prevent the disease more work needs to be done to figure out its causes.’
Wallace and Lieberman looked to data and fossils to help guide their research.
‘There are famous examples in the fossil record of individuals, even Neanderthals, with osteoarthritis,’ Lieberman said. ‘But we thought, let’s look at the data, because nobody had really done that in a comprehensive way before.’
To find those data, Wallace examined thousands of skeletons spanning more than 6,000 years of human history to search for evidence of eburnation.
‘When your cartilage erodes away, and two bones that comprise a joint come into direct contact, they rub against each other causing a glass-like polish to develop,’ Wallace said.
‘That polish, called eburnation, is so clear and obvious that we can use it to very accurately diagnose osteoarthritis in skeletal remains.’
The data Wallace collected was combined with analyses from other contributors to the study, making this the largest sample ever studied of older-aged individuals.
‘The most important comparison is between the early industrial and modern samples,’ Lieberman said.
‘Because we had data on each individual’s age, sex, body weight, ethnicity, and in many cases, their occupation and cause of death, we were able to correct for a number of factors that we considered important covariates.’
The research showed people being twice as likely to get knee osteoarthritis if you were born after World War II.
Ultimately, Wallace and Lieberman hope their study inspires new research to prevent knee osteoarthritis.
‘Wouldn’t it be great if people could live to be 60, 70 or 80 and never get knee osteoarthritis in the first place?’ Lieberman said.
Right now, our society is barely focusing on prevention in any way, shape or form, so we need to redirect more interest toward preventing this and other so-called diseases of aging.’