Research suggests that women are more likely than men to develop knee osteoarthritis (KOA). Improving thigh muscle strength may be one way to get a leg up on reducing or preventing the condition, according to a new study.

This study compared muscle anatomical cross–sectional areas (ACSAs) and isometric extensor and flexor muscle strength in 161 KOA patients against the same factors in 186 individuals without the condition. The researchers also looked at BMI as a possible contributor to knee osteoarthritis.

The investigation, published in Arthritis Care & Research (2017; doi: 10.1002/acr.23182), determined that lower levels of specific strength (strength + ACSA) in the knee extensors and knee flexors increased the risk of KOA in women, but not in men. However, the link observed in women lost significance when the researchers adjusted for BMI. Lower levels of specific strength were associated with higher BMI in women, but not in men.

"Lower thigh muscle specific strength predicts incident [knee osteoarthritis] in women, with this relationship being confounded by BMI," the study authors concluded.

In a press release, lead author Adam Culvenor, PhD, said, "Our results highlight the importance of maintaining thigh muscle strength to reduce the risk of knee osteoarthritis development, particularly in women."