How to Treat Your Joints Well and Lower Your Risk of Osteoarthritis

Moving Ahead     Fall 2018

Age, genetics and gender play a role in whether you develop osteoarthritis. But you’re not entirely at the mercy of these factors. By adopting healthy lifestyle practices, you can reduce your risk and delay the condition’s onset.

Factors You Can’t Control

The joint pain, stiffness and swelling of osteoarthritis — the most common form of arthritis — occurs when the cartilage that cushions joints breaks down, resulting in bone-against-bone contact. The condition becomes more prevalent with age, possibly because cartilage cells decrease in number as time passes.

By adopting healthy lifestyle practices, you can reduce your risk and delay the condition’s onset.

Heredity also plays a role, as it does with many diseases. And osteoarthritis affects more women than men, particularly after age 50. Lowered estrogen levels after menopause may be the reason.

Factors You Can ControlTreat Your Joints Well and Lower Your Risk of Osteoarthritis - In Content

Even if all three of the factors cited above apply to you, osteoarthritis in not a foregone conclusion. You can lower your chances of developing the condition, as with any disease, by adopting basic practices of healthy living, such as:

  • Controlling weight. Each extra pound of weight puts nearly four pounds of extra stress on knee joints and six pounds of extra pressure on hips. This accelerates break down of cartilage. Joint tissue sustains further damage from inflammation caused by proteins called cytokines, which are produced by fat tissue. Losing just a few pounds can cut your risk of osteoarthritis in half, says the Arthritis Foundation.
  • Controlling blood sugar. Diabetes, which affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugar, may be a significant risk factor for osteoarthritis. In fact, more than half of Americans diagnosed with diabetes also have arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Recent research has linked high blood sugar levels to formation of molecules that may stiffen cartilage and make joints more vulnerable to mechanical stress. Diabetes can also cause inflammation that leads to cartilage loss.
  • Staying physically active. Physical activity is one of the most effective ways to keep joints healthy and to treat osteoarthritis. This is because physical activity such as walking, swimming, gardening and even doing house work strengthens muscles that provide hips and knees with much-needed support and stability. As little as 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise five times a week has proven to be effective for maintaining joint health. And exercise strengthens the heart and lungs, decreases diabetes risk and helps control weight.

    Ask your health care provider for advice on an exercise program that’s appropriate for you.

  • Preventing injury. Traumatic joint injuries can come back to haunt you later in life. Arthritis is nearly seven times more likely to develop in a joint that has been injured, says the Arthritis Foundation. That’s because cartilage is a poor healer. About half of people who suffer a traumatic joint injury experience osteoarthritis, according to statistics from the Arthritis Foundation. Conditioning exercises can strengthen supportive muscles around joints, and joint padding offers further protection against injury. And when lifting at home or work, use your largest, strongest joints.