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Women and osteoarthritis: Tips to control your risk

Bryn Mawr Hospital February 19, 2016 General Wellness
Last Updated on September 20, 2019

Osteoarthritis doesn’t discriminate—its symptoms, like creaky joints and aching backs, can strike anyone from the retired college athlete to the weekend warrior to the on-the-go parent. But one distinguishing factor? Most of those who have it are women.

“Women are at a greater risk than men for all types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis,” says Jess Lonner, MD, orthopaedic surgeon at Bryn Mawr Hospital, part of Main Line Health. “Not only are they more likely to suffer from osteoarthritis, they’re also more likely to experience more severe symptoms.”

Why women? There are a number of factors that can increase a woman’s risk, many of which are the differences in biomechanics between men and women.

Despite an increased risk, all hope isn’t lost. Below, Dr. Lonner offers tips for women to protect their knees from osteoarthritis symptoms.

Maintain a healthy weight

Carrying around excess weight can take its toll on weight-bearing joints, like your knees. But that’s not the only reason that you should keep an eye on the scale. Research suggests that inflammation associated with weight gain can contribute to trouble in other joints, too, like your hands. Keep your weight under control with a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains.

Put the high heels back in the closet

High heels might be a wardrobe staple for many women, but they can be bad news for your knees.

“When your heels are elevated, your quadriceps are forced to work harder to hold your knees straight, which can lead to knee pain,” explains Dr. Lonner.

Opt for a pair of cushioned, supportive flats instead. If you’re committed to wearing heels, choose shoes with a low, thick heel for the best stability.


Besides being the best way to help ward off weight gain, exercise can improve arthritis pain by strengthening your muscles and improving range of motion and flexibility. But cardio lovers be warned: high-impact exercises could be putting you at risk for further pain and injury. Instead, try switching it up.

“To reduce your risk for injury and improve arthritis symptoms, an effective exercise routine should combine stretching, strength training, and exercises that emphasize balance and control,” says Dr. Lonner. Low-impact aerobic exercises, such as swimming, biking and the use of an elliptical trainer are often well-tolerated by arthritis sufferers and effective measures to optimize fitness and control weight without overloading the joints.

Pay attention to injuries

When it comes to their health, women are likely to shrug off injuries and illnesses. But shrugging off a knee injury or knee pain can have long-term consequences.

“Soreness after a workout is normal, but if you’re in constant pain or noticing sharp pain after a workout, then that can be cause for concern,” says Dr. Lonner.

Don’t let pain go ignored for too long. Make an appointment to talk to your physician about your symptoms. Seeking early treatment for your arthritis can often mean less joint damage and less pain.

Consider knee replacement surgery

While often considered the last option, knee replacement surgery may be a consideration when arthritis pain is no longer responsive to other treatments. The good news is that roughly one-third of patients are candidates for partial knee replacements, which allow a quicker recovery and preserve the healthy parts of the knee. You can learn more about surgical and non-surgical treatment options for knee pain at one of our free hip and knee pain seminars, offered across Main Line Health. Register for an upcoming session.

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.