Women Must Move! Dealing with Osteoarthritis as a Female

by Chris Sturge

Osteoarthritis(OA) is a condition characterized by the degeneration of various joint structures such as cartilage, bone, ligaments, and the joint capsule. Most commonly affected are the knee, hip, and hands, but OA can occur in any joint. Symptoms vary widely from person to person but tend to include pain and stiffness, decreased mobility, balance and strength losses, and a general decreased confidence. While there is no singular cause of OA, there are several contributing factors – one of which is being female.

Females are more susceptible to developing osteoarthritis for primarily hormonal and biomechanical reasons. There is increasing evidence showing that estrogen plays an important role in the maintenance of joint health; therefore, early- and post-menopausal women are particularly vulnerable to the degenerative changes of OA due to estrogen deficiency[1].

Additionally, females tend to have a wider pelvis and therefore a greater angle from their hips to their knees – in biomechanical terms, this is known as a Q angle. This Q angle creates the potential for rougher interaction between the bones of the knee and over time, these forces contribute to cartilage degradation[2]. This underscores the importance of learning optimal movement patterns to minimize inappropriate forces at the joint level!

Osteoarthritis has been described as a “wear and tear” condition in the past, but recent research has shifted this characterization to “joint failure”. This is a critical distinction! The concept of wear-and-tear logically leads to ceasing activity in order to lessen the offending forces on the joint – however, multiple studies have shown that exercise is the single most effective treatment for OA[3].

In fact, the way cartilage receives nutrients is through repeated loading and unloading, not the circulatory system. Loadbearing activity creates a sponge-like effect in the cartilage, allowing fluids to be squeezed out and pulled back in. This means that ceasing activity altogether deprives cartilage of its nutrient system! This is true of both healthy joints and in the presence of OA.

The main challenges with maintaining cartilage health are knowing how much loading is appropriate and managing pain levels. Unfortunately, pain is a very common companion to osteoarthritis and creates an understandable amount of uncertainty about exercise. Ensuring that the type and amount of exercise is just enough to receive the benefits without overshooting and causing more harm than good is crucial. This is best learned with the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional.

Craven SPORT services is pleased to offer multiple osteoarthritis exercise intervention programs, both in group and individual format. For more information, please Contact us at Saskatoon, SK center.

References:
[1] Roman-Blas JA, Castañeda S, Largo R, Herrero-Beaumont G. Osteoarthritis associated with estrogen deficiency. Arthritis Research & Therapy. 2009;11(5):241. doi:10.1186/ar2791.
[2] Kim Y-M, Joo Y-B. Patellofemoral Osteoarthritis. Knee Surgery & Related Research. 2012;24(4):193-200. doi:10.5792/ksrr.2012.24.4.193.
[3] Roos, Ewa M, Skou, ST. GoodLife with osteoArthritis in Denmark Canada Training Manual. 2016.

 

 

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