How Osteoarthritis Harms Your Bones

How Osteoarthritis Harms Your Bones

A study shows that women with osteoarthritis are at higher risk for fracture. Here’s how you can protect your bones.

If you’re one of the 32.5 million Americans with osteoarthritis (OA), you’re probably already taking steps to ease your joint pain and stiffness. But if you’re a woman, you may have one more thing to watch out for, according to a study published in the medical journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage: bone fractures.

Using data from a 22-year study, researchers in Sydney, Australia, looked at fracture risk among 2,412 women and 1,452 men, all older than 45. During the study, 33 percent of women and 18 percent of men had at least one “fragility fracture.” That rate is normal for older adults.

To their surprise, however, the researchers found that women with OA had a 50 percent higher risk of suffering a fracture. Experts have long thought that OA should protect against fractures, because the same factors that lead to OA, such as excess weight, also boost bone mineral density. In this study, though, the fracture risk was highest among women who had normal or slightly low bone density, not those who had osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weak, brittle bones. 

The explanation for the increased risk isn’t clear, but the researchers think falls may have a lot to do with it. People with OA have more falls, likely because joint pain and stiffness make them less mobile, causing them to lose strength and balance. Also, though people with OA may start out with higher bone density, they tend to lose it more quickly as they age. Their bones can have certain weaknesses that a bone density scan can’t see.

How to protect your bones
Try these strategies to decrease your chance of fractures.

Be assessed for fall risk. Talk to your healthcare provider about evaluating your chances of falling, taking into account your existing health conditions. Use the assessment to guide your preventive steps.

Stay active. Gentle exercise, such as swimming, walking or yoga, can maintain your strength and flexibility and ward off bone loss. But be sure to consult your doctor before you start a fitness routine, especially if you already have OA.

Get adequate sleep. People who are tired are at an increased risk of falling. Adults aged 25 to 64 should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night; older adults should shoot for seven to eight hours.

Have your eyes and ears tested. Changes in vision or hearing can affect your ability to detect warnings or spot potentially hazardous obstacles. Always make sure you wear your glasses, contact lenses or hearing aids when you need them.

Check medication side effects. Some may cause you to feel dizzy or sleepy, which could affect your balance.

Medically reviewed in November 2019. Updated in August 2020.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Osteoarthritis (OA).” July 27, 2020. Accessed July 30, 2020.
MY Chan, JR Center, et al. “Bone mineral density and association of osteoarthritis with fracture risk.” Osteoarthritis and Cartilage. 2014 Sep;22(9):1251-8.
National Osteoporosis Foundation. “What Women Need to Know.” 2020. Accessed July 30, 2020.
National Institute on Aging. “Prevent Falls and Fractures.” Reviewed March 15, 2017. Accessed July 30, 2020.
Arthritis Foundation. “Osteoarthritis and Falls: How to Reduce Your Risk.” 2020. Accessed July 30, 2020.
National Sleep Foundation. “How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?.” July 21, 2020. Accessed July 30, 2020.

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