Affecting over 27 million Americans, osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most prevalent medical conditions in the country. Why so common? Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage between our bones breaks down naturally, making it difficult to avoid as we age. As our population ages—and our waistlines continue to expand, placing more pressure on our joints—osteoarthritis will undoubtedly become an increasingly common health concern.
Experts note that once we hit a certain age, some symptoms of osteoarthritis are inevitable. However, physicians have also noted cases of the disease in younger and younger patients. The two main culprits: increased participation in competitive sports among young athletes and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, failure to maintain a healthy weight. Doctors recommend that patients of every age use these tips to help prevent the onset of osteoarthritis:
- Work on losing that spare tire. With every step, we place three times our body weight on our knees. Other joints also bear our body weight all the time. Reducing body weight eases stress on the joints. Remember that losing weight means not only changing your diet, but also increasing physical activity.
- Get fit the right way. Sporadic participation in physical activity, à la the “Weekend Warrior” can actually hurt your joints. The body must stay properly conditioned for exercise, which requires regular participation, along with strength building and flexibility training. A physical therapist can help you plan a workout that satisfies your competitive streak—and protects your joints.
- Go for low impact. Activities like swimming and cycling place less impact on the joints than, say, jogging or basketball. That makes them preferable because they reduce the risk of injury—and joints that have been injured are more prone to osteoarthritis. Meanwhile, low impact exercise still strengthens the muscles around your joints, providing extra protection.
- Don’t skimp on safety equipment. Especially in the hot Florida sun, it can be tempting to leave those safety pads and helmet at home. But injured joints are more likely to develop arthritis, making injury prevention crucial to risk reduction. Those knee, elbow, and wrist guards can prevent not only injury today, but also pain and swelling down the road.
- Pay attention to your body. If a specific motion or activity causes abnormal pain, or if joints get swollen or tender after a workout, it may be time to take a break. Repetitive stress damages both muscles and joints, wearing them down over time. Tailor your workouts and activity choices to respect your body’s limits. Rotating activities, such as doing weight training and cardio on alternating days, can also help prevent overexertion.
- Maintain proper posture. Your mother always told you to sit up straight! If you’re a slouch, it’s time to kick that habit. Sitting and standing with proper posture actually distribute the weight of your body more appropriately among your neck, back, hips, and knees. Shifting positions throughout the day (for instance, switching from sitting to standing tasks at work) also helps relieve joint stiffness.
If you have questions about osteoarthritis or orthopedic care, please contact us at St. Lucie Medical Center. Call Consult-a-Nurse® at (800) 382-3522 for answers to your questions and free physician referrals.