Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States and one out of every five Americans has arthritis (Source: CDC). If you already have arthritis, there are things you can do to keep your joints as healthy as possible, reduce your symptoms, and maintain your independence. If your joints are healthy, you can make changes in your everyday life that reduce some of your risk factors and help prevent serious problems with arthritis in the future.
Age, Gender, and Family History
Aging is the biggest risk factor for arthritis due to the wear and tear on your joints that occurs with time as you get older. This leads to a breakdown of cartilage, a smooth substance that covers the ends of your bones. The ends of your bones grind against each other causing pain, stiffness, and limited movement.
Being female and having a family history of arthritis also makes it more likely you will get arthritis. You can’t change your age, gender, or family history, but you can work with your doctor to manage other risks for arthritis that you can control.
Joint Injury and Overuse
Joint overuse and injury can stress and damage your joints, which increases the risk of arthritis. Repetitive activities, such as keyboarding, frequent kneeling, or operating machinery can cause joint overuse. High impact athletic activities, such as soccer, football, baseball and running, can cause a variety of injuries that are known to damage joint cartilage and lead to arthritis.
Many athletes and active people have learned to live with arthritis while still enjoying their favorite activities.The right types of exercise can actually help people with arthritis stay active. For example, cross-training with different activities, such as walking, swimming, and weight resistance exercises can help strengthen muscles that support your joints and increase your bone density and strength.
It is also important to take regular breaks and vary your activities when performing recurring movements. You can lower the risk of joint injury by using recommended protective gear for sports, such as knee and elbow pads for contact sports. Make sure you stop the activity right away when you feel joint pain.
Being overweight or obese stresses your back and joints in your lower body, especially your knees. Every extra pound you carry puts four more pounds of pressure on your knees and six more on your hips (Source: AF).
Talk to your doctor about what a healthy weight is for you and the best way for you to lose weight if needed. This generally includes a regular exercise program and eating a balanced diet that consists of a variety of choices from each food group and limiting added sugar, fat and salt.
What Else Can I Do to Prevent Problems With Arthritis?
Don’t ignore little signs that something is wrong with a joint, such as minor knee pain when climbing a flight of stairs. See your doctor promptly when you first notice aches, pains, swelling, or changes or problems with your joints. Early treatment can’t reverse joint damage, but it can help delay or prevent joint damage from getting worse and help you to live the most active life possible.