Effects of Aging on Joints

Original Editor - Wendy Walker

Top Contributors - Wendy Walker, Laura Ritchie and Tony Lowe  


No matter how healthy an individual is, as they age their joints will show some changes in mobility, due in part to changes in the connective tissues.
As joint range of movement has a direct effect on posture and movement, this can result in marked alteration of function.

Age related changes in connective tissue

Cellular changes

Decreased proliferation and altered control of apoptosis (programmed cell death) causes a decrease in effective maintenance of tissue homeostasis[1].

Gross changes

  • increased stiffness
  • decreased strength
  • reduction in water content

Age  related changes in bone

Bony changes have a direct effect on joint mobility, influencing the joint surfaces to alter joint mechanics.
Subchondral bone (the layer directly below the articular cartilage) undergoes reduction in thickness and density with increased age[2].

Range of movement

Joint range of movement (ROM) decreases with increasing age; passive and active ROM both decrease, but often within a single joint the active ROM reduces more than the passive ROM.

Reduction in ROM is not uniform, and different joints show different degrees of restricted movement, as well as different patterns of directional limitations.

Specific joint ROM changes

Cervical spine - extension and side flexion show the greatest reduction in ROM.

Thoracic and lumbar spine - extension is the most limited movement in older adults and rotation shows little or no age-dependent decline[3].

Hip - extension ROM has been shown to reduce by 20% when comparing 25 to 39 year olds to 60 to 74 year olds.

Ankle - dorsiflexion ROM is reduced with age.

Upper limb: there is less influence of age on joint ROM (compared to spine and lower limb).

The shoulder complex shows the greatest changes in the upper limb, whereas no age-associated decline in ROM of the elbow or wrist have been noted[4] (in the absence of disease).

Recent Related Research (from Pubmed)


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  1. Freemont AJ, Hoyland JA: Morphology, mechanisms and pathology of musculoskeletal ageing. J Pathol 211:252-259, 2007
  2. Yamada K, Healey R, Amiel D, et al: Subchondral bone of the human knee joint in aging and osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis Cartilage 10:360-369, 2002
  3. Bible JE, Simpson AK, Emerson JW, et al: Quantifying the effects of degeneration and other patient factors on lumbar segmental range of motion using multivariate analysis. Spine 33:1793-1799, 2008
  4. Doriot N, Wang X: Effects of age and gender on maximum voluntary range of motion of the upper body joints. Ergonomics 49:269-281, 2006