In their study, Dr. Esme Fuller-Thomson, at the University of Toronto, and colleagues found the association "unexpectedly robust," they report in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism.
Among 11,108 men and women, slightly more than 10% said they had been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, and this group was nearly two times more likely to report being physically abused during childhood.
Previous investigations identified stressors of living with abuse as a child, subsequent unhealthy adult behaviours, and depression as potentially tied to development of painful osteoarthritis.
Notably, in the current study, after allowing for these and many other known risk factors for osteoarthritis, including obesity, age, income, and education, "the association between childhood physical abuse and osteoarthritis remained," Fuller-Thomson told Reuters Health in an email.
The findings stem from a detailed look at data collected during the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey in which men and women from the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan answered questions regarding both childhood abuse and adulthood osteoarthritis.
Overall, nearly 7% answered yes to the question "Were you ever physically abused by someone close to you?"
It should be noted, the researchers say, that while this study assessed self-reports of childhood abuse, osteoarthritis, and other factors, it did not consider some additional factors likely tied to osteoarthritis risk, such as previous joint injury or history of overuse, high levels of physical activity or participation in sports, bone mineral density, or genetics.
Additional studies that focus on specific characteristics of adults who were abused in childhood but who did not develop osteoarthritis would be worthwhile, they conclude.
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