Can cracking your knuckles cause cartilage breakdown? Can texting trigger hand OA? Will wearing high heels damage your knee joints? Osteoarthritis (OA), sometimes called “wear and tear” arthritis, occurs when the cartilage or cushion between joints breaks down leading to pain, stiffness and swelling. So it’s often thought that if you engage in repetitive activity and put added stress on your joints, it can affect how quickly you get OA or how fast it progresses. Can these five lifestyle factors – knuckle cracking, texting, diet, high-impact exercise and high-heeled shoes – affect your joint health and possibly cause osteoarthritis? Here’s what research says.
Although knuckle cracking may irritate those around you, a 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine fails to substantiate a connection between the habit and osteoarthritis. In the study of 215 people between ages 50 and 89 who had had one x-ray of the right hand during the five past years, doctors found a similar incidence of knuckle OA in any one joint among people who cracked their knuckles and those who didn’t. The duration in years or frequency of cracking also did not relate to having OA in the respective joint.
Texting is a quick and convenient way to get messages to friends and colleagues, but if you have a child – particularly a daughter – who is constantly texting, she could be headed for osteoarthritis down the road, says Yusuf Yazici, MD, of NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York City. In a 2011 study of 257 children ages 9 to 15, girls who used cell phones reported twice as much pain as boys. The problem, says Dr. Yazici, is that the devices were not designed for children, whose bones and tendons are still developing. Injuries to those structures now, like other joint injuries, could precipitate the development of OA in those joints later.
Research has suggested that a diet rich in some nutrients – particularly vitamin E – might reduce the risk of osteoarthritis or its progression. As far back as 1996, data from the Framingham study showed that men with the highest intake of vitamin E were 30 percent less likely to have progression of knee OA. However, some subsequent studies have not shown a protective effect of vitamin E, and one study of 3,026 men and women with or at high risk of knee OA published in 2014 in Osteoarthritis & Cartilage found high blood levels of vitamins E and C may actually be associated with increased risk of OA. For now the best nutritional advice for OA is to consume a healthy diet that helps you to maintain a healthy weight, because obesity is a known risk factor for OA and its progression.
While wearing those sexy stilettos may not directly cause osteoarthritis, research suggests they could put your knees at risk. In a study published in the March 2012 issue of Gait and Posture, University of Iowa researchers had 15 women walk in selected three heel heights – flat, two inches, and 3.5 inches – and at both a preferred (self-selected) speed and at a fixed speed. When the researchers used special technology to calculate forces on the knee joint, they found that the height of the heels changed the women’s walking characteristics such as speed and stride length. As the heel height increased, they also saw an increase in compression on the medial, or inside, of the knee – possibly putting the women at risk for knee OA. “Our results suggest that the higher the heel – at least up until 3.5 inches – the worse the medial compartment loading becomes,” says study leader Danielle Barkema. The take-home message: saving your high heels for special occasions could help save your knees.
While exercise is a good thing for people with osteoarthritis, research shows that middle-aged people who participate in high-impact, weight-bearing exercise may cause damage to their knees that leads to OA. In a study of 136 women and 100 men aged 45 to 55, researchers at the University of California San Francisco found that MRIs were more likely to show lesions of the cartilage, menisca and ligaments in those who reported high levels of physical activity compared to those with lower levels of activity. The message, researchers say, is to stick with lower impact exercises when possible.