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Osteoarthritis (OA) is a form of joint disease. Throughout a lifetime, the cartilage - the tissue between the bones that form the joints - suffers from wear and tear. The result can be the degradation of the cartilage, leading to the bones rubbing against one another. The muscles and ligaments that surround the joints may end up becoming weaker and stiffer, with symptoms such as joint pain, inflammation around the joint, and the affected part of the body being tender to the touch.
There are a number of causes; however, the most common is age, with the cartilage worn away over time. Sports injuries - specifically those where excessive pressure is placed on the joints, such as in contact sports - and certain jobs that place repetitive stress on the same joint over and over again can contribute to the early onset of osteoarthritis. Some people will get OA due to genetics and some through infection; however, in general, osteoarthritis comes with age.
What are the best measures for osteoarthritis prevention? In terms of what you can do to help yourself, there are plenty of options.
Looking after your body means looking after your bones and joints. This requires the right amount of exercise - too little and the body becomes weaker and possibly overweight, increasing the pressure on joints; too much and there is a risk of more damage and wearing away the cartilage.
For your body to get the right amount and type of nutrients and vitamins, you must have the right diet to maintain your healthy body.
It is possible to learn how to prevent osteoarthritis by managing the factors over which you have control. Learning how to avoid osteoarthritis takes time and discipline, but it is manageable.
The most common symptoms are joint pain and problems and stiffness when moving the joint. While the severity will vary from person to person, almost any joint can suffer from osteoarthritis. The most commonly affected parts are the knees, hips and hands. Joints will become tender and may appear to get larger or ‘knobbly’. These afflictions will decrease the movement in the body’s joints, and there is a risk of muscle wasting.
In the knee, it is usually the case that both knees will be affected unless it is the result of a specific injury suffered by just one knee. A person might find that their knees give way beneath them or become painful when walking. There are loads of articles online on how to avoid arthritis in the knees.
When it affects the hips, osteoarthritis results in difficulty in moving a hip joint. The person may also experience pain in their groin or on the outside of the hip.
With regard to the hand, osteoarthritis will most commonly affect the thumb at its base and the joints closest to the fingertips. When this occurs, the finger might bend to the side and may develop cysts on the back of the fingers.
Regardless of where osteoarthritis strikes the symptoms are largely similar.
Watching your weight
Being careful about your weight can be a vital part of osteoarthritis prevention. Aside from being good for your general health, reducing your weight reduces the pressure placed on your leg, in particular your knees.
Most of us do at least some walking every day. Some of us enjoy going running, while others like to play sports. The more weight you lose, the less stress is placed on your knee joints; therefore, watching your weight gives you the chance to prevent additional wear and tear on your knees.
To find out if you’re a healthy weight check out the NHS BMI Healthy Weight Calculator.
Eating the right foods
Maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle involves having a healthy diet and eating the right foods. An individual can spend hours exercising; however, this risks being for nothing if their diet is wrong.
Eating the correct foods that your body needs is important for losing weight; what’s more, it provides the nutrients your bones need. An additional concern that comes with a poor diet is the risk of diabetes. Recent studies have found evidence that suggests diabetes is an influencing factor in knee osteoarthritis.
There are a number of foods that should be avoided in excess. Sugar in processed foods can affect how your body’s immune system responds to osteoarthritis, making the joints more inflamed and leaving them feeling weaker. Swap such foods for more natural kinds, such as natural honey. Salt will cause your cells to hold onto too much water, resulting in swelling. Try getting to know and using a variety of spices to give your food that extra zing. Fried food is bad for you - drenched in saturated fats, fried food will raise your body’s cholesterol levels, which will only make inflammation more painful. Try foods baked with no oil additives. White flour, such as the kind used to make white bread, pasta and other grain products, should be avoided where possible and replaced with more naturally produced and less processed products.
Alcohol is not good for you for a whole variety of reasons and can cause osteoarthritis to flare up due to the increase in purine levels. Drinking alcohol while trying to control and reduce OA is highly discouraged; what’s more, alcohol does not interact well with the majority of arthritis medications, reducing their effectiveness.
Increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables and focus on eating leaner meats, such as chicken and turkey, over red meats. Eat low-fat dairy products, as these will contain plenty of vitamin D and calcium, which are good for strengthening your bones. Overall it’s important try and maintain a healthy weight.
For more information on selecting the right foods visit our nutrition page.
Despite previous mentions of how excessive pressure on our joints and bones contributes to osteoarthritis, remaining active is important for battling OA. What is vital is doing the right kind of exercises and activity and doing them in the correct proportion. Doing more than nothing is great, but do too much and you risk damaging your body and bones.
Running is a high-impact sport, meaning that the pressure on the joints is more intense. Activities such as swimming and cycling will offer a beneficial workout yet place much less pressure on the joints; therefore, low-impact sports are the best option to avoid additional damage to the joints, particularly the knee joint.
When participating in sports, there are a few things to remember. Ensure that you take enough time to warm up before you start, preferably spending five to ten minutes gently moving and stretching the various limbs and their joints. This will reduce the chance of injury to your joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles. Try to make a slow start to the sporting activity, gradually building up to reach your target. Be careful in the sporting activities that you choose and try to rotate them so that different parts of your body are used each day, thereby reducing the stress placed on the same body part regularly.
Regular exercise will improve the strength of your muscles. This means that their effectiveness in carrying your body will increase, reducing the pressure on your joints. If you are beginning a new exercise regime to reduce your weight and increase your fitness, there will be a certain amount of muscle soreness to begin with. This is quite common and is quite different from joint pain. Your body will begin to adapt as it gains fitness and the soreness will eventually disappear, however there are exercises which you should avoid which can exacerbate the situation.
Wearing the right shoes
While shoes might not occur to many people straight away as an important factor in how to prevent knee osteoarthritis, OA shoes can modify your stance and reduce the pressure on your joints. Having the wrong shoes can potentially cause long-term complications and damage to any number of joints by exacerbating the problems your body already has.
Avoid shoes that do not have much in the way of material, such as sandals and flip-flops. Wear shoes that provide good and hard stability with solid soles and good shock absorption capability. Boots are advantageous, as they will provide more support around the ankle to give good balance and stability. Also, ensure that the shoes provide good arch support. An insole can be added to provide additional support if needed; however, if this is the case, make sure the shoes are spacious and can hold the insole. The risk is a shoe that is too tight, which makes walking even more uncomfortable and can be a risk to your joints. Comfortable shoes will also mean healthier feet, making the body more mobile and ensuring your joints remain active.
For more information visit our footwear page.
Shoes with high heels should be avoided, as these will only put more pressure onto the joints and usually require the toes to be forced into a narrower point. This can put your feet at risk of hammertoes and inflammation. Trainers are a good option if they have even soles to ensure that the pressure is spread equally over your foot, thereby reducing the pressure on any one point.
For more information on getting started with a healthy lifestyle visit the NHS get fit for free pages.