Arthritis Research recently broke a story focusing on the latest research discussing how the risk of knee replacement surgery is primarily affected by the environment.

The study from Odense University Hospital and the University of Southern Denmark, highlighted the important role played by environmental factors in increasing a person’s risk of requiring knee replacement surgery.

As reported by Arthritis Research, the research

“Indicated that older people and women are at a particularly high risk of requiring total knee arthroplasty as a result of osteoarthritis, but also that inherent genetic causes are not the main factor responsible for this.

It is well known that age and gender have a big impact on the likelihood of knee osteoarthritis from Examining knee replacement rates in Danish twins, but not much is known about the reason for this, particularly in terms of whether genetic and environmental factors vary by gender.

To study this, the researchers looked at data from 92,748 twins from the Danish Knee Arthroplasty Register, of whom 576 twins had a record of primary knee osteoarthritis. This included 358 female and 218 male twins.

Results published in the medical journal Arthritis Research & Therapy, showed that the risk of requiring a knee replacement increased markedly above the age of 50, with genetic factors influencing this likelihood in women, but not men.

The key role of environmental factors

The findings showed that environmental factors were generally much more significant than genetic ones, with 82 percent of the variations in total knee arthroplasty risk explained as having environmental causes, compared to only 18 percent being chalked up to hereditary issues.”

The researchers concluded

“Further studies focusing on the discrimination of the various sources of the common environment in exposed families and individuals are needed, as well as studies on preventive measures.”

From their own studies Arthritis Research are aware that environmental factors do play a major part in causing this debilitating condition.

When medical disorders happen frequently it is likely that different members of the same family will be affected. The temptation then arises to believe the cause is genetic, i.e. “my mother had it, my grandmother before that, so now me”, but it may just be the frequency of the problem and there may be other environmental factors which also run through families, including lifestyle habits.

We know obesity and being overweight, the two major risk factors for developing the condition, is becoming more prevalent and in an ageing population, knee osteoarthritis is set to increase substantially in the coming years and decades.

Twin studies are always interesting, as they provide the almost unique chance to see what happens to people genetically very similar, but living under different circumstances. Now we have finally abandoned the simplistic ‘wear and tear’ explanation for osteoarthritis, any research which throws light on its true cause is to be welcomed. What it doesn’t do of course is remove the need to look at our own lifestyle and make every effort to correct anything that we can to minimise the effects and progression of the disease, preferably as early as possible in its course.