As we age, almost all of us will develop some degree of osteoarthritis, medical experts say. However, by addressing risk factors, you can lower the chance of developing it and make it less disruptive to your life if you do.
In osteoarthritis, cartilage that cushions the joints and allows bones to glide over one another breaks down and wears away over time. The bones then rub together and cause pain, swelling and stiffness. It’s the most common of the more than 100 types of arthritis, affecting more than 30 million U.S. adults and 29 percent of Pennsylvanians, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The most typical symptom is pain and swelling in affected joints after repetitive use. Pain and stiffness also can happen after periods of inactivity—after sitting through a movie or concert, for instance.
Risk factors and prevention
While aging increases the risk of osteoarthritis, Harvard researchers have found that lifestyle factors—obesity and lack of exercise—may have more impact on developing osteoarthritis than simple wear and tear on the joints. Other risk factors include previous injury to a joint and heredity—osteoarthritis tends to run in families.
Being overweight stresses joints, particularly the hips and knees. Every pound of excess weight puts about 4 pounds of extra pressure on the knees, according to the Arthritis Foundation. So, if you’re 10 pounds overweight, that’s 40 pounds of extra pressure on your knees. Add up all the steps you take in one day, and it’s easy to see the damage your knees can sustain over the years.
Losing weight and keeping it off can improve the long-term outlook for all of your joints.
Studies also show that weak muscles surrounding the knee can raise your risk of knee injury and osteoarthritis. Ask your doctor what exercises you can do to strengthen those muscles and stave off an injury that could hasten the onset of osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis can’t be cured and often worsens over time. Treatments designed to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life include physical therapy, over-the-counter pain relievers, steroid injections, and lifestyle changes such as weight loss and exercise.
Exercise carries the bonus of not only decreasing arthritis pain but helping you reach and maintain a healthy weight. The key, however, is to keep the activities low impact—walking, biking, swimming, or exercising in the water. As always, never start an arthritis fitness program without consulting your doctor.
Many people use alternative remedies for arthritis, but Mayo Clinic notes that little evidence supports the effectiveness of many of the products. The most promising are acupuncture, glucosamine, yoga or tai chi, and light massage.
While all of these measures can ease arthritis pain, they can’t make arthritis go away. Advanced cases require surgery. Those surgeries could include joint repair, replacement, or fusion, according to Mayo Clinic.