While she’s a unique athlete, Robyn Benincasa is afflicted with the most common form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition that affects 27 million Americans. Despite its prevalence, researchers admit they don’t know all the risk factors for osteoarthritis. “Obesity is the main thing that increases risk, although an injury can as well,” says Dr. Shreyasee Amin, a researcher in the department of rheumatology at the Mayo Clinic.
A study from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), suggests that all Robyn’s athletic jarring and pounding might have caused her osteoarthritis. In the 236-person study, those who participated in high-impact activities experienced an increased risk of osteoarthritis. Yet the researchers say more studies are necessary to prove the link. “Saying that people who exercise more are going to develop osteoarthritis is an inference you can’t really derive from these data,” said study co-author Michael Nevitt. “It may be a combination of risk factors such as being overweight or having malalignment.”
Until the cause is clear, Amin encourages people “to exercise to a reasonable limit, maintaining strong muscles” and to keep weight gain in check. Additionally, don’t smoke. “Smoking may increase a person’s progression once they have osteoarthritis,” she advises.