One of the most common questions I get asked as an orthopaedic surgeon is, how do I prevent arthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common joint disorder in the United States. Symptomatic knee OA occurs in 10% men and 13% in women aged 60 years or older.
The number of people affected with symptomatic OA is likely to increase due to the aging of the population and the obesity epidemic. Although we can’t prevent osteoarthritis altogether, we can lower the risk factors that cause osteoarthritis. Here are some helpful tips:
1. Lose weight, or at least avoid gaining. Extra pounds are awful on joints: They increase the burden on them, and have a destructive metabolic effect. A chemical related to obesity upsets the balance between the buildup and breakdown of cartilage, meaning the natural degradation of cartilage moves more quickly than the renewal process that’s supposed to restore it. The effect is a net loss that, over time, becomes osteoarthritis.
2. Do exercise that doesn’t damage joints. That includes low-impact biking and swimming, along with yoga and pilates, plus walking if it’s not too fast, and weightlifting, as long as it’s not stressful. If you walk, make sure you have comfortable shoes, and try to walk on surfaces that are relatively flat. Asphalt is better than concrete.
3. Watch your biomechanics. How you lift and carry various objects, or perform physical tasks, including playing sports, can make a big difference to the health of your joints. The back is the most obvious part of the body that can be strained, but nearly all joints can be damaged by poor biomechanics. For instance, something as simple as gardening can put stress on joints if you dig at the dirt with your fingers instead of using a proper tool. Proper mechanics while playing sports will do far more than improve your athletic performance. It also minimizes strain on joints from head to toe that can manifest later as osteoarthritis.
4. Prevent and treat injuries. Too many ankle sprains, or insufficient treatment following sprains, can put you on the road to arthritis in your ankles. And once you alter the mechanics of your ankles to compensate for that, you can begin a process where the mechanics of other joints are also altered, through your knees up to your hips, etc. So, take care of your injuries, whether to the ankles, knees, or elsewhere.
5. Taking supplements is also a potentially useful step. Glucosamine and chondroitin both show evidence of helping cartilage avoid deterioration, at least to a degree.
6. Check your vitamin D. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 60 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, especially African-American women and those of menopausal age, are especially likely to be lacking adequate levels. Patients who have adequate levels of vitamin D have less progression of osteoarthritis.
Another reason to drink more water: arthritis prevention. The cartilage in our joints is made up mostly of water, which is what makes it such a great cushion for the joints. When we are dehydrated, water gets sucked out of the cartilage and it’s more easily damaged by wear and tear. Keep your cartilage healthy by drinking water throughout the day. A daily 6 to 8 cups now may pay off in the years to come.