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Osteoarthritis starts earlier than you think

30 per cent of Canadians with the disease are diagnosed before 45, new study reveals 

TORONTO, JULY 20, 2021 — Unlike most mothers her age, Eileen Davidson, 35, can’t play with her eight-year-old son because of pain and fatigue.

“I often feel like a bad mother because of osteoarthritis (OA),” says the Vancouver resident, who was diagnosed with the disease at age 30. “It is so much more than just joint pain. It robs me of joy, activities, productivity, mobility and full-time work. Every day, I have to carefully navigate my life around the pain.”

Davidson is among the 30 per cent of Canadians with OA who, according to a study commissioned by the Arthritis Society from the Arthritis Community Research Evaluation Unit (ACREU), are diagnosed before they turn 45.

“This important study demonstrates that osteoarthritis is most certainly not an ‘older person’s disease’,” says Trish Barbato, President and CEO of the Arthritis Society. “The disease starts much earlier than we think, and when it strikes a younger adult, it can overshadow their entire life.”

OA is a progressive disease of the joints that leads to the breakdown of cartilage and the underlying bone. Affecting more than four million Canadians of all ages, it causes chronic and often debilitating pain.

The new data analysis by ACREU reveals:

Younger adults with OA experience poor mental health. Beyond the physical impact of OA, younger adults with the disease are more than twice as likely than their peers to say their mental health isn’t good. More than 30 per cent live with a reported mood or anxiety disorder.

“Being physically limited by OA has an impact on everyone, but there is an extra burden for young adults because they are supposed to be at the peak of their abilities," says lead researcher, Dr. Anthony Perruccio, Co-Director of ACREU and Scientist at Schroeder Arthritis Institute, University Health Network.

“I feel like I am missing out on what other moms can do or what others my age can achieve,” says Davidson.

OA disrupts the ability to work. Nearly half of working-age Canadians with OA are not in the labour force or in school, compared to less than one-fifth of the general population. Arthritis forces many to change their work conditions or stop work altogether.

The impact of OA on younger adults can be similar or worse than in people over 75. Nearly one-third of younger adults with OA live with severe or frequent joint pain -- the same as is seen in adults with OA over 75. Younger adults have more trouble getting a good night’s sleep, and younger women report severe and frequent fatigue.

The Arthritis Society stresses that young adults and health care professionals should not ignore joint symptoms at any age.

“All Canadians need to be aware of the devastation osteoarthritis can have on young adults – our colleagues, friends and family members – who are often at particularly demanding stages in their professional and personal lives,” says Barbato.

“They deserve earlier diagnosis and effectiveness interventions, along with more support for research and innovation that will ultimately extinguish the impacts of this disease.”


See a summary of the full study The Burden of Osteoarthritis in Canada [PDF].

About the Arthritis Society

The Arthritis Society is Canada’s national charity dedicated to fighting the fire of arthritis with the fire of research, advocacy and information and support. With the support of our donors and volunteers, we are all in to end arthritis, so people with arthritis can live their best life free from arthritis. The Arthritis Society is accredited under Imagine Canada’s Standards Program. For more information, visit   

For more information or to arrange interviews:

Danielle Milley
Senior Manager, Corporate Communications
Arthritis Society

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