By Kathy Lawrence, PT, DPT
Many people think of arthritis as a disease of older adults, and as a normal consequence of getting older. While the risk of some forms of arthritis such as osteoarthritis increase with age, many types of arthritis have nothing to do with age. In fact, there are still many things that you can do to reduce even your risk of osteoarthritis and other kinds of arthritis. You may not be able to prevent arthritis completely, but your goal should be to delay the onset and minimize any potential effects.
When it comes to arthritis, there are things that you cannot change such as your genetics or gender. In other words, being female and having a family history of arthritis increase your risk of some types of arthritis. Rheumatoid Arthritis, for example, is more common in females. Whereas, Ankylosing Spondylitis, which causes inflammation of the spine, tends to affect more males than females.
In what follows, are some tips to keep your body and joints healthy, thus reducing or delaying the onset of arthritis.
Minimize damage to your joints
Many sport injuries that occur when you are younger, have the potential to result in osteoarthritis, which is the wear-and-tear arthritis that occurs due to cartilage deterioration on the ends of the bones where they meet to form joints in your body. It may be too late for you, but if you have children, it is important to minimize injuries that they may sustain by wearing protective equipment and reducing the risk of injury. Football, martial arts, soccer, and hockey are examples of sports that carry higher risk of injury. Therefore, you may want to choose activities that involve less impact. Gymnastics, although popular with many children and teens, carries a high risk of arthritis development in the future. The wrist is one joint that is particularly susceptible to damage, but the knees and ankles are also at risk due to the many landed jumps. The spine also undergoes postures that puts its joints in positions that tax it to its limits.
If you smoke, here is one more reason to quit. Smoking causes blood vessels to narrow, resulting in less nutrients and oxygen getting to the joints.
Eat a healthy diet that is anti-inflammatory
Foods, that you eat on a daily basis, can either create inflammation (bad) in your body – in particular, your joints and blood vessels – or create anti-inflammatory (good) effects.
To maintain the health of your joints, good foods to eat include fatty, coldwater fish (or Omega 3 fish oil supplements), turmeric spice, garlic, cherries, and fruits high in Vitamin C (such as kiwi and strawberries).
Stay away from the foods that cause inflammation – pastries, sugar, hydrogenated fats, and refined grains are a few examples.
In the case of people with gouty arthritis, uric acid crystals can build up in the joint spaces. These uric acid crystals are increased by the consumption of foods high in purines. Purines are found in organ meats (liver, kidney, brain) and shellfish, and should be avoided by people with a history of gout. Alcohol should also be avoided as it also makes gouty arthritis worse, as it increases the uric acid crystals in the joints too.
Maintain a healthy weight
Research shows that for every 10 pounds of extra weight, your knees experience 30 – 60 extra pounds for every step you take! That is significant.
By losing weight, and/or maintaining a weight that is recommended for your height, you can reduce your risk of developing osteoarthritis in your knees.
Be mindful of repetitive joint movements
Repetitive movements can result in inflammation of tendons (tendinitis) or compression of the median nerve in the wrist (carpal tunnel syndrome). These conditions are not arthritis, but the repetitive movements can also result in the joint damage we know as arthritis. Certain jobs that require repetitive bending, walking on hard surfaces, or heavy lifting can cause damage to the protective cartilage found at the ends of bones at the joints.
Kathy Lawrence has 20 years of experience as a Physical Therapist. Kathy received her Masters of Physical Therapy in 1999 from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Then followed up with her Doctorate Degree in Physical Therapy in 2008 from A.T. Still University. She prides herself on her focus on Healthy Aging. Whether it’s wellness, pain management, or helping recover from an injury Kathy has been instrumental in keeping our aging population on their feet.