For Women: OA Risk Factors and Coping Tips

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on April 23, 2012
3 min read

You used to climb stairs, lift toddlers, and work in the garden with ease. Now osteoarthritis makes these activities difficult and painful for you. You're not alone. Nearly 27 million Americans have osteoarthritis. And about 16 million of them are women.

If you are a woman with osteoarthritis, don't let OA put you on the sidelines of life. Work closely with your doctor to reduce pain and resume the activities you enjoy. Your doctor can suggest different types of treatment. Keep trying until, together, you and your doctor find what works best for you.

Why are women more susceptible to OA than men? "There are a lot of things we still don't know for certain about arthritis. And why its prevalence is so much higher in women is one of those things," says Rebecca Manno, MD, assistant professor of medicine and faculty member of the Arthritis Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. But there are some theories, she says. Women may suffer from OA more due to:

  • Hormonal influences. The rate of osteoarthritis in women increases after menopause. But it also increases with age in general. So it's not clear if menopause has an added effect.
  • Different activities among men and women. "We know that certain activities and overuse syndromes predispose people to osteoarthritis," says Manno. For example, former athletes and dancers tend to get arthritis more often.
  • Biomechanics, or the different ways in which men's and women's bodies are designed to move. For example, women have wider hips than men, which may put more stress on their knees. So women tend to get arthritis more often in their knees, while men are somewhat more likely to have arthritis in their spines and hips.

If you have osteoarthritis, it's important to find ways to keep the disease from interfering with your life.

There are no current treatments that can actually slow down or stop the progression of osteoarthritis. "It's the most common form of arthritis in the world. So it's very disappointing that we still have no disease-modifying treatments," says Manno. "But we have a lot of options to help manage the symptoms and keep women as healthy and active as possible."

Manno offers women five tips for coping with osteoarthritis and living a full and active life:

  1. Women with OA shouldn't avoid weight training. "Low-impact exercise is very beneficial for arthritis. And strength training and resistance type exercise can really help ease the pain of knee osteoarthritis," says Manno.
  2. Take off extra pounds.Obesity is one of the biggest risk factors for osteoarthritis. Losing a little weight goes a long way in relieving aching joints. Every 1 pound of weight you carry adds about four pounds of pressure on you lower body per step. But if you lose 10 pounds, you take off 40 pounds of impact with every step. That's about 48,000 pounds less pressure for every mile you walk!
  3. Educate yourself about osteoarthritis. "We find that people with arthritis do better if they know what to expect and know what the disease is. Knowledge helps you to feel empowered about the disease and know that you're doing something about it," Manno says. Ask your physician about osteoarthritis education programs and support groups in your area.
  4. Manage your meds. A host of medications are available to help treat OA symptoms, either by prescription or over the counter. You've probably tried many of them, such as painkillers, topical creams, or even injectable medications to ease inflammation. If you feel like your current medications aren't helping you, sit down with your doctor and ask about your options for switching drugs or modifying your doses or schedule.
  5. Be open to complementary therapies -- that is, non-medical treatments that accompany your doctor's care. One of the most common complementary treatments for arthritis is acupuncture, a traditional Chinese therapy that involves inserting thin needles at certain points in the body. Although more research is needed, at least one study has found that acupuncture can ease pain and improve function in people with osteoarthritis. "And it has no known adverse effects. So if you want to try it, there really isn't a downside," says Manno.