Osteoarthritis: Can it be prevented?

arthritis treatment

Few conditions are as well known to the general public as arthritis. Around 54 million Americans—or about 23% of the population—are currently affected by it. These figures are a bit alarming, and you may be wondering what your own risk might be for developing arthritis. More importantly, you may be wondering if there is anything you can do to reduce your chances of developing it. Read on for tips on osteoarthritis prevention.

There are many different types of arthritis, and many factors that play into a person’s chance of getting it. While some of these factors are completely out of one’s control and cannot be altered, others are considered “modifiable”. Making changes to these factors may have a significant impact on your personal risk for arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is by far the most common of the more than 100 different types of arthritis. As many as 31 million individuals currently have osteoarthritis, and the majority of cases are in people over the age of 65. Osteoarthritis is also the most preventable of all forms of arthritis. For other types, like rheumatoid arthritis for example, not as much can be done to prevent it. In many cases, the cause of other types of arthritis are not well understood.

Focusing on the risk factors that you can control

Osteoarthritis is a complex process that results from a number of different causes. Older age does play a part because the body naturally undergoes several changes that make joints more vulnerable to developing it. Since you can’t stop the aging process, older age is one of the risk factors that is “non-modifiable”. Other non-modifiable risk factors are being female (since females are at an increased risk for all forms of arthritis) and family history (since some people are more likely to get it because of their genetic background.)

But these are just a few of the factors that determine a person’s risk, and there are many others that are actually modifiable. Below is a breakdown of the risk factors for osteoarthritis that you do have control over and may help you with osteoarthritis prevention:

Maintain a healthy weight

  • Excess weight is one of the biggest risk factors for osteoarthritis. It also happens to be one that you have the power to change. When you are overweight, the extra pounds put added pressure on weight-bearing joints like the knees and hips. Each additional pound of body weight adds nearly four pounds of stress to the knees, and increases pressure on the hips by nearly six fold. Over time, this extra strain breaks down cartilage in joints and increases the risk for osteoarthritis.
  • For individuals who are overweight, losing at least 5% of their body weight may decrease the amount of stress on the hips, knees, and lower back. One study actually found that overweight women who lost 11 pounds decreased their risk for osteoarthritis by more than 50%.
  • Losing weight is no easy task, and there are many components that go into it. Your primary focus should be on eating right, making necessary lifestyle changes, and exercising more. This leads us to our next modifiable risk factor:

More physical activity

  • Weight and activity levels go hand-in-hand as the two osteoarthritis risk factors that can help manage your risk. Exercising and becoming more physically active will not only help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, but serves a number of other important purposes as well. It keeps your joints moving, prevents stiffness and strengthens the muscles around your joints. This improves your mobility and helps reduce the risk for osteoarthritis. Inactivity, on the other hand, can actually make joints more susceptible to osteoarthritis. Aim to get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (like brisk walking) or 75 minutes of a vigorous-intensity activity (like jogging) AND two days of strength training each week. It’s important to point out that physical activity includes anything that keeps you moving. Shoveling snow, taking the stairs at work, and mopping the floor all count towards your total.

Other useful tips to prevent arthritis

  • Avoid injury. Injuring weight-bearing joints like the knees or hips can make cartilage wear out quicker. Take steps to lower your risk whenever possible, such as:
    • Participate in a sport-specific injury prevention program
    • Take adequate time to rest and recover
    • Avoid overtraining and pushing your body too hard
  • Get injuries treated. If you do notice any pain or soreness developing in joints that are commonly affected by osteoarthritis, get it looked at right away by a physical therapist or your doctor.
  • Control your blood sugar. Studies have shown that diabetes may be a significant risk factor for osteoarthritis. High glucose levels may speed up the formation of molecules that make cartilage stiffer and more sensitive to stress. If you’re diabetic or prediabetic, it’s extra important to watch your glucose levels and keep them within a healthy range to reduce your risk for osteoarthritis.

For more information on this topic, click HERE for another article on osteoarthritis.

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