Risk factors for arthritis

Find out more about the triggers for arthritis in this section.

Why do some people develop arthritis whereas others escape it? Can you inherit a gene for arthritis? Is there anything you can do to reduce your risk of developing arthritis?

What we do know is that everyone is different in regard to developing arthritis. There is more than one factor which triggers this condition and these reasons vary between individuals.

This section includes:

  • Likely triggers for arthritis
  • Removing the triggers for arthritis

Likely triggers for arthritis

The triggers for arthritis include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Genetics
  • Obese/overweight
  • Manual occupation
  • Injury
  • Sports
  • Disease, illness or infection


This is a major factor in cases of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Types of arthritis such as these tend to occur in middle age or older and are due to wear and tear on the joints.

Osteoarthritis develops when the spongy tissue between the joints –known as cartilage, starts to degenerate over time, which leads to pain, stiffness and swelling.

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs due to a ‘fault’in the immune system which causes it to attack the joints leading to pain, discomfort and inflammation. This often occurs in people aged 40 and above although younger people can be affected.


There is definitely a gender bias when it comes to arthritis. Around 6 million women develop arthritis compared to 4 million men which is due to a variety of reasons.

But men do get arthritis: it is important to remember that there are more than a hundred different forms of arthritis, some of which affect men more than women and vice versa.

But women are more prone to osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis for the reasons mentioned in the arthritis facts and figures section.

The hormone oestrogen is an important factor as is the skeletal differences between men and women.


There is evidence which suggest that it is possible to inherit a gene for arthritis or a strong chance of inheriting this condition if either of your parents has arthritis.

But further research is needed to support this view.


If you are overweight or have been diagnosed as clinically obese then you are probably aware of the strain this puts on your body and especially your joints.

If your joints have to support an excess amount of weight then this quickly wears down the cartilage in the joints which means a heightened risk of an injury. This means that your joints are more likely to wear out compared to someone of a normal weight.

Manual occupation

Someone with a job which requires a great deal of heavy lifting or is physically stressful is at greater risk of arthritis than someone who is employed in an office.

Manual jobs such as these place a great deal of stress on the body, which includes the joints, and a higher risk of conditions such as arthritis compared to sedentary occupations.

There is also a risk of arthritis for people who perform repetitive movements. If you use a keyboard without taking any breaks or perform any series of actions over and over again then please be aware that this can cause long term health problems.

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is the most likely outcome but it is not unknown for people in this position to develop arthritis.


If you sustain an injury to your joints, for example your knee or your shoulder then this often leaves permanent damage to the joint. This damage may affect the cartilage for example, which then leads to arthritis.


People who undertake intense physical exercise or compete at a high level in sport are at greater risk of injury. Pushing the body to its limits or overtraining without adequate rest can mean frequent injuries, often in the same part of the body.

Severe of chronic injury can lead to arthritis. But this has to be balanced against the many benefits of sport and exercise in general.

Disease, illness or infection

There are diseases especially those which trigger an autoimmune disease such as lupus which lead to arthritis. An infection in a joint or several episodes of gout can also trigger arthritis.

Removing the triggers for arthritis

There are some triggers for arthritis which cannot be altered such as genes, age and gender.

But there are others which can be reduced, often by a few lifestyle changes. These include:

    • Losing weight –if you are overweight or obese
    • Avoiding repetitive movements and taking breaks whenever possible.
    • Taking preventative measures to reduce a sports injury if you participate in sport on a regular basis. Look at ways of preventing this and ensure that you include rest periods into your routine.

It is impossible to protect against every possible trigger for arthritis such as sustaining an injury or illness. Some of these are preventable but other times, they occur for no apparent reason.

For example; if you are involved in an accident which is not your fault but leaves you with an injury to your hip which then results in arthritis.

Life is never straightforward and things happen for no obvious reason. So we can never devise a system in which there are no risk factors for arthritis but instead, focus on ways of minimising this risk.

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