5 Important Role Of Immune System In The Development Of Osteoarthritis

role of immune system

Osteoarthritis is a common joint disorder that can affect women over 50 years old. As a person ages, the symptoms of this disease can become worse resulting in limited mobility. You should understand the factors that can speed up, as well as slow down, the role of immune system in the development and progression of this condition.

While it is known that osteoarthritis occurs primarily due to the degenerative changes, or wear and tear, of the joints, we also need to consider how the immune system affects the pathogenesis of this disease. This article discusses the role of immune system in the development of osteoarthritis.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a joint disorder caused by both chronic inflammation of, and wear and tear on, joint tissues. It usually occurs when the ends of the bones are worn out due to the age-related degenerative changes. 

The ends of the bones are covered by a protective membrane called the synovium. The synovium protects the joint tissues by providing lubrication that reduces friction between the ends of the bones. [1]

Several factors, including aging and degeneration, cause this membrane to wear off  exposing the delicate bone tissues. Over time, constant friction between the ends of the bones during joint movements results in considerable damage to the tissues. This is when people start experiencing pain in the affected joints. [2]I

The immune system plays a direct and indirect role in the disease process of osteoarthritis.

The role of immune system in the development of osteoarthritis

Here some role of immune system you should know:

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1. Age and Degeneration

Advancing age is a common risk factor for osteoarthritis. Research studies have revealed that the incidence of this disease is higher in women over the age of 50. [3]

Bone and joint tissues undergo continuous wear and tear during our regular activities. Degeneration occurs due to the body’s reduced ability to form new bone cells and heal the damaged cells.

When we are younger, bones are able to form new cells to replace  damaged cells through the process of regeneration. As our age increases, the rate of degeneration exceeds the rate of regeneration and the dead cells cannot be replaced efficiently. This is when osteoarthritis begins to progress. [4]

Research studies have shown that immune cells have the ability to regulate the process of regeneration and degeneration of the cells. 

A healthy, functioning immune system promotes bone remodeling processes by enhancing the formation of new bone cells. At the same time, immune system deficiencies create imbalances in the processes of both bone formation, and bone resorption, making the bones and joints weaker. An unhealthy immune system prevents rapid healing of the damaged and inflamed joints, worsening the symptoms of osteoarthritis.

2. Obesity

Women who are overweight are more likely to develop osteoarthritis, sometimes even before the age of 50. Obesity results in excess pressure exerted on the knees and hips, accelerating wear and tear on the joints. [5]

Women are strongly advised to maintain a healthy weight in order to prevent or slow down the progress of osteoarthritis. 

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It is important to note that the risk of obesity itself is sometimes linked to an immune system disorder. Disorders of the immune system can affect the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates, increasing the risk of obesity. 

Problems with the immune system can also make it difficult for women to shed excess weight by reducing metabolic rate and fat-burning mechanisms. The resulting weight gain could trigger wear and tear of the joints, worsening the symptoms and progress of osteoarthritis. [6]

This suggests an indirect role of immune system in the development of osteoarthritis.

3. Inflammation

Osteoarthritis is primarily an inflammatory disorder. Damage to the joints occurs over time when proinflammatory substances are released by the immune cells. 

Research studies have revealed that the secretion of proinflammatory substances, like cytokines and interleukins, can accelerate the progress of osteoarthritis. 

The study also found that white blood cells called monocytes, which regulate our immune responses, are more active in women with osteoarthritis. Immune cells such as B cells, T cells, and macrophages also infiltrate the bones and joint tissues and contribute to the progress of this condition. [7]

These abnormalities linked to the immune system are believed to be responsible for the development of inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis. Research studies have also suggested that targeting monocytes and adopting measures to restore normal immune system functions can reduce the risk of this condition.

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4. Healing of inflamed joints

If your immune system is compromised, you may not easily be able to heal from injuries to your bones and ligaments . This can lead to osteoarthritis. [8]

The natural healing and repair processes of the body are regulated by the immune system. Your immune system releases substances that promote the formation of new cells to restore the structural integrity of damaged bones and joints. 

The lack of an efficient immune system can prevent proper healing of injured bones and ligaments, increasing the risk of osteoarthritis in the affected joint. 

5. Joint pains

Research studies have revealed that the severity of joint pain caused by osteoarthritis is determined by the amount of neurotransmitters secreted by the body.

Cartilage degrading factors, like prostaglandins, are released by the immune cells in response to wear and tear, injuries, or degenerative changes in your joints. These factors can cause more damage to the cartilage and also create the sensation of pain. [9]

There is evidence to suggest that the disorders of the innate and humoral immune systems can increase the risk of osteoarthritis by triggering inflammation. This indicates that your immune system plays a role in the pathogenesis of osteoarthritis.


Taking steps to improve your immune system health can help to control and inhibit the progress of osteoarthritis. Adopting healthy lifestyle habits like eating nutritious foods rich in antioxidants and regular exercise are great ways to build up your immune system. 

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  1. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/about-arthritis/related-conditions/other-diseases/arthritis-and-infection-risk
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4465583/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3702776/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6165608/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4717890/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5992476/
  7. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171127135816.htm
  8. https://brighamhealthhub.org/spine/osteoarthritis-learn-about-the-most-common-form-of-arthritis
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4015466/

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