How to Protect Yourself from Arthritis


By: , – Arricca Sansone, Family Circle
  :  18 comments   :  24,484 Views

"I'm too young to feel this old," says Vicki Inman, 41. She's always been very active, but a few years ago this mom of two teen girls was diagnosed with arthritis. "The pain became so severe I felt as if my leg were going to give out." Thankfully, she found a solution in exercise: "I have to do gentle stretches and yoga regularly, otherwise it's painful to walk," says Inman, who's currently based at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Benning, near Columbus, Georgia, with her husband. 
So what exactly is this thief of mobility that can strike so early? Arthritis is that creaky feeling you get climbing bleachers to watch your kid's soccer game. It's the ache in your hands when you're holding the dog's leash. A group of more than 100 different rheumatic diseases, arthritis doesn't discriminate based on age. It's also very common, affecting some 50 million Americans and more women than men.
But here's what arthritis is not: a done deal. "You don't have to become a statistic," says Robin K. Dore, M.D., clinical professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "There are steps you can take now to possibly prevent, delay and stop arthritis in its tracks." Halt its onset by learning the truth and regaining your freedom of movement.

Myth: "Everyone will eventually get arthritis."

Reality: Arthritis is not like gray hair or taxes. First and foremost, arthritis is a disease -- and not everyone gets it. Keep the condition from taking away your ability to do what you love by understanding what fuels it. Osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when the cartilage that cushions your bones at the joints breaks down, leading to fluid accumulation, bony overgrowth and pain around the joint. "What makes all this happen is a combination of factors, including heredity, weight and previous injury," says Marci Goolsby, M.D., a sports medicine specialist at the Women's Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Emerging research has also linked a woman's exposure to PFCs (chemicals often found in products such as nonstick cookware and stain-resistant carpets) to OA.

While you can't control factors such as your family history, you can address issues such as your weight. Likewise, though you can't erase old injuries (joints that have sustained trauma are more likely to develop OA eventually), you can focus on avoiding new ones. For example, lift heavy items correctly by engaging your abs, bending at the knees and lifting with your butt muscles.

Myth: "Arthritis is not really a serious disease."

Reality: Untreated, it can prevent you from doing basic everyday tasks. Not to mention that it can increase your risk of depression, osteoporosis and heart attack. Besides, you wouldn't want your husband or kids to tough out pain. So why should you, especially when there are so many effective management techniques to help you get through your jam-packed day? More important, "we have no way of knowing from person to person whose arthritis is going to get worse," says Jason Theodosakis, M.D., associate professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson. "Taking preventive measures now, such as strengthening muscles around the knee joint, may allow you to avoid serious repercussions later, like knee replacement surgery."
Myth: "A few extra pounds only affects my hips and knees."

Reality: Extra weight can affect even non-weight-bearing joints. Yes, excess pounds put stress on your joints and cause cartilage to wear out faster. But it's not just about the number on the scale. "We don't fully understand the process yet, but we know that fat releases chemicals throughout the body that may damage cartilage in both weight-bearing joints, such as hips and knees, and non-weight-bearing joints, such as hands," says Dr. Theodosakis.

Try to slim down or maintain a healthy weight. One study showed that overweight women who lost 11 pounds reduced their risk of developing knee OA by half. Another revealed that dropping 15 pounds decreased knee pain by 50%. Whatever you do, avoid gaining weight. "You can make the pain worse by giving up," says Dr. Theodosakis.
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  • 18
    After reading this article, I have more questions than answers. It is too general. - 10/21/2013   5:45:54 PM
  • 17
    interesting - 6/26/2013   11:39:30 PM
  • 16
    Thanks for the the information which is generally pointed at the later years in life and so not true.A better diet and exercise early on is a must I think!!
    - 6/1/2013   9:56:07 AM
  • 15
    The older members of my family suffered from arthritis, but it was impossible to get information as to the type each person had. Even the doctors did not seem to be fully informed. I sure would like to see more clear explanations out there. Most sources are too general. A doctor doing xrays on my husband said he saw signs of arthritis but did not do or say much more. - 5/31/2013   7:38:41 AM
  • 14
    Getting to a normal BMI is certainly important. - 5/30/2013   12:33:15 AM
  • 13
    thanks - 5/29/2013   11:30:47 PM
  • 12
    Thank you for this information. - 5/29/2013   9:21:59 PM
  • 11
    Great info... Thanks - 5/29/2013   9:46:20 AM
    I understand elimination of wheat will greatly improve both RA and OA. Exercise is a must with either. - 5/29/2013   7:45:00 AM
  • KAB7801
    Thanks - 5/29/2013   6:51:07 AM
  • 8
    Wish I'd known all this before the unexpected OA struck! It's under control, but I'm always aware it may get worse, and stop me from doing the things I enjoy. If you can, take good note of this article. - 5/29/2013   5:15:30 AM
  • 7
    Nice general article....there are so many kinds of arthritis. I have pysoratic arthritis due to having psisorias. loosing weight and working out has helped me a great deal.....It's all about doing what is best for your body and the type of arthritis you have. - 5/28/2013   10:18:26 PM
  • 6
    Yes, there are different types of arthritis and I don't believe this blog was meant to cover them all and doesn't even suggest this information is for RA.

    This had good information for the rest of us.

    Thank you. - 5/28/2013   7:31:44 PM
  • 5
    I come from a family background of arthritis. All 4 of my grandparents had arthritis. My mother had a hip replacement, my dad a knee replacement, and my sister has had both knees replaced. I decided that was going to be a very last resort for me so I set out on the journey to lose weight and exercist. So far I've lost about 35 lbs and began to exercise more regularly. I no longer feel the "creaking" of one knee that I injured in an auto accident 30 years ago. Exercise, along with the weight loss, has helped me. - 5/28/2013   5:15:12 PM
    Like the article. But agree with Erin. - 5/28/2013   3:18:34 PM
  • 3
    I find that exercise does help my rheumatoid arthritis quite a bit. Sometimes I can't do the high impact stuff (my days as a distance runner are probably over), but if I can get on my stationary bike or go for a walk or a swim, the fluid around my joints gets moving and helps the ache. Course if I do something dumb like overdo it on the upper body strength training, my hands and wrists will be in so much pain I can't sleep. All about balance.

    Also, most people that are afflicted with arthritis are afflicted with OA and not RA, so this article can still be very helpful to many people. - 5/28/2013   12:05:27 PM
    I agree with Erin - this is a very generalized article dealing only with osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is quite different. Perhaps a better title would specify that this article is about OA, not chronic conditions. - 5/28/2013   11:57:34 AM
  • 1
    This article is misleading. There are different types of conditions that are labeled as arthritis. The type you are talking about is probably osteoarthritis. But many of us who have arthritis have rheumatoid arthritis, which is a very serious, chronic disease that destroys mobility, causes extreme pain, and can lead to heart problems and even death. It is very painful. Exercise doesn't help. There isn't anything you can do to prevent it.

    Articles like this that make sweeping generalizations harm those of us who daily struggle to do simple things like button our clothes or even use the bathroom. So many people think (often thanks to articles like this) that if I would just exercise more or take fish oil or eat cinnamon and honey I would magically be healed. If only it were that simple!

    I know that we who suffer from this disease would appreciate better research in your articles that touch on this subject. There are things that help. I would suggest as a great place to start.

    Thank you, Erin - 5/28/2013   9:39:06 AM

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