One in four adults is diagnosed with arthritis, which is nearly 60 million Americans.
While there are more than 100 types of arthritis-related conditions, osteoarthritis is by far the most common.
In fact, more than half of adults with arthritis suffer from osteoarthritis. It is a painful condition, and even though there is no cure for osteoarthritis, there are steps you can take that may slow down the progression.
What is osteoarthritis?
“Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease,” said Ajay K. Mathur, MD, FACP, a board-certified rheumatologist at Penn Highlands Rheumatology in Monongahela.
“It is also known as wear-and-tear arthritis because it causes the cartilage within a joint to gradually break down, leading to changes in the underlying bone as well as causing inflammation.”
Over time, these changes worsen, causing pain, stiffness and swelling. In severe cases, osteoarthritis can also result in reduced function and range of motion, making it difficult to perform daily tasks.
Although osteoarthritis can affect any joint, it most commonly affects the hands, knees, hips, lower back and neck.
Symptoms usually appear more frequently in individuals over the age of 50, but it can also affect younger people, especially those with previous joint injuries, such as a torn ACL or meniscus.
Osteoarthritis usually develops slowly over time, but some patients may experience a rapid progression after suffering an injury.
How can I reduce my risk and slow down the progression?
“At one time, we thought that osteoarthritis was simply an unavoidable part of living a long and active life,” said Dr. Mathur.
“But, research has revealed that it is a complex process caused by multiple factors, some of which can be delayed or even prevented. And while most older individuals develop osteoarthritis, it is not an inevitable fact of aging. Many can stay symptom-free and live an active lifestyle.”
Dr. Mathur shared the following tips to lessen the chances of developing osteoarthritis.
Tip 1: Maintain a healthy weight.
Excess weight is a significant contributing factor to osteoarthritis, as it places additional pressure on weight-bearing joints.
Each pound of body weight results in nearly four pounds of added stress on the knees and six pounds on the hips.
This excess pressure can gradually break down the protective cartilage surrounding the joints, leading to further deterioration over time.
Even a small amount of weight loss can have a significant impact on reducing joint stress and inflammation.
Tip 2: Keep your blood sugar under control.
Certain molecules make cartilage stiffer and more sensitive to stress. Type 2 diabetes can accelerate cartilage deterioration in the joints possibly due to low-grade, chronic inflammation caused by high blood sugar and insulin resistance.
More than half of people diagnosed with diabetes also suffer from arthritis, and this connection may help explain this fact.
By managing blood sugar levels through lifestyle modifications and medication, you can potentially reduce your risk of developing or worsening osteoarthritis.
Tip 3: Stay active.
It may seem like exercising would be worse for stiff joints, but it is actually one of the best things you can do.
Exercise improves muscle strength, flexibility and balance, which helps better support and protect the joints. Additionally, improved flexibility can help joints move more easily while enhancing balance and preventing falls.
Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times per week can help keep your joints flexible and your muscles strong. Before beginning an exercise routine, be sure to consult your doctor.
If you experience inflammation, swelling or pain in your joints, you may need to consult with a rheumatologist. Penn Highlands Healthcare offers comprehensive care for all types of joint conditions, including osteoarthritis and other types of arthritis.
For more information, visit www.phhealthcare.org.