Tips on How to Prevent Arthritis
It is estimated that 20% of Americans over the age of 18 have arthritis in at least one joint. Our bodies are designed with shock-absorbing cartilage that cushions your bone and arthritis develops when that cartilage begins to deteriorate or can no longer function. This can be caused by overuse which will wear down the cartilage over time, or from joint inflammation. Because there is no cure, advanced stages of arthritis can make it difficult to walk, move, open jars, or complete simple everyday tasks. However, there are steps you can take now to reduce joint inflammation, lessen your pain, and potentially prevent arthritis. If you are looking to learn how to stop arthritis from progressing, read on.
Early signs of arthritis
How can you tell if that pain and stiffness in your joints is a warning sign of arthritis, or just a simple annoyance that will eventually go away? You’ll need to visit a medical professional to get an official diagnosis, but there are certain signs you can look for.
- Stiffness – One of the most common arthritis symptoms, stiffness will most often occur first thing in the morning or after sitting for prolonged periods of time. If you have morning stiffness that lasts longer than one hour it could be arthritis.
- Swelling – Experiencing unexplained swelling that lasts longer than three days, or occurs more than three times per month. If you experience swelling, you should consider talking to your healthcare provider as this may be an early sign of arthritis.
- Joint Pain – Pain is hard to pinpoint when it comes to arthritis because it can come and go, or be constant. You may also experience joint pain while moving, or when at rest and it could be in many different parts of your body.
- Difficulty moving – When the pain, swelling, and stiffness compounds, it can make it difficult to move or do common household tasks with ease.
If you begin to experience these arthritis symptoms, there are something things to take note of.
- where you feel swollen or stiff
- what time of day the flare-ups occur
- how long they last
- if you are able to do anything to ease the intensity
- any other symptoms that you’re experiencing as well, even if they seem unrelated
What causes arthritis?
There are over 100 different forms of arthritis but the two most common types include rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. These two do damage to the joints in different ways.
Osteoarthritis, which is the most common form of arthritis, is commonly referred to as wear-and-tear arthritis. It occurs when the cartilage in your joints breaks down. Cartilage is a connective tissue within your joints that absorbs the pressure and shock that’s created when you move. When the cartilage tissues break down it can lead to arthritis.
The second common form of arthritis is rheumatoid (RA), which is an autoimmune disorder. RA occurs when your immune system attacks the tissues within the body, thus, breaking down the lubricant between the joints. RA can eventually destroy the joint, compromising both the bone and cartilage inside the joint.
How can I prevent arthritis naturally?
While there’s nothing you can do to completely eliminate risk for developing arthritis long-term, there are things you can control. Examples include diet and exercise. These among other preventative measures will have a positive impact on your condition and potentially prevent arthritis from taking place at an earlier stage.
Consuming a diet that’s low in processed foods and saturated fat, and rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and beans can help fight the inflammation caused by arthritis.
Maintaining a healthy weight can also help reduce arthritis pain and take pressure off the joints. Physical activity can help, too – especially if you focus on flexibility and strength training. If it’s painful to move, try low-impact cardio exercises like swimming and cycling. This will work your muscles while taking it easy on your joints.
What is the best treatment?
If you’re wondering, what is the best treatment for osteoarthritis, physical therapy has proven to be an effective treatment. It may also help you avoid surgery on affected joints and the use of prescription painkillers. While symptoms and progression of arthritis are different for everyone, starting a personalized exercise program and addressing your risk factors can help with pain relief and slow the advancement of arthritis.
Physical therapy treatment may include:
- Determining what activities are difficult for you, and discussing ways to treat the issue.
- Design of a personalized exercise program to address your condition.
- Manual therapy that can improve movement around the affected joint.
- Discuss ways to lessen the stress on your affected joints.
- If you are overweight we can help with weight loss and recommend lifestyle changes to keep the weight off.
If your osteoarthritis is severe and physical therapy alone won’t help, surgery may be necessary. In that case, your physical therapist will refer you to an orthopedic surgeon and discuss rehabilitation procedures after the surgery is complete.
How do you stop arthritis from progressing?
If you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis, you’ve likely worried about the progression of the disease with concerns about a potential surgery in your future. However, with a few lifestyle changes, you may be able to slow the progression and avoid surgery on the affected joints.
- Losing weight – Excess weight is strongly linked to osteoarthritis. This is due to the stress it causes, particularly on the knees, hips, and spine. The more stress you place on joints that are already damaged, the more inflammation will occur. Over time, this stress can cause further damage to the structural integrity of the joint. This can cause more pain and reduce your mobility. Losing just 5-10% of your body weight can make a difference in your symptoms. While it can certainly be difficult to exercise when you’re experiencing pain in your joints, there are ways around it. Specific exercise plans designed for people with painful joints can focus on range-of-motion exercises, light strength training, and endurance exercises.
Modify Your Activities – Simple activities should not cause pain and if you continue to push through you may do more harm than good. If you’re an avid athlete, you might want to consider focusing on low-impact activities like biking, swimming, cross-country skiing, and yoga. The idea is to look for activities that will work up a sweat without the added stress on your knees, hips, and other joints.
If you’re not currently active you may want to consider meeting with a physical therapist first. Physical Therapists can teach you how to safely strengthen those painful joints and create a personalized program that will gradually ease you into an exercise routine.
- Exercise – Regular physical activity will help ease your pain and reduce stiffness while improving your overall health. Studies have shown exercise to be a vital part of arthritis prevention and treatment, especially in older adults over the age of 65. The idea is to participate in activities that will improve your flexibility, build muscle strength, and enhance your endurance. It is recommended to start by meeting with a physical therapist or healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise program. This is so you don’t run the risk of irritating the joints even more.
What foods prevent arthritis?
While there is no magic cure for arthritis, certain foods have been shown to fight inflammation, strengthen bones and boost the immune system. These are all things that help reduce the symptoms and prevent arthritis from taking place at an earlier stage.
- Fatty or oily fish – Salmon, mackerel and tuna have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Both of these have been found to help reduce inflammation. A healthy diet that includes fish 2-3 times per week (or a fish oil supplement) can be really good for you.
- Olive oil – This healthy oil can improve inflammatory markers and reduce oxidative stress in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
- Garlic – Scientists believe that diallyl disulfide, a compound found in garlic may work against the enzymes in the body that damage your cartilage. Garlic has also been shown to reduce inflammation, which may help lessen the symptoms of arthritis.
- Broccoli – A cruciferous vegetable, broccoli contains a compound called sulforaphane, which could slow the progression of osteoarthritis. It’s also rich in vitamins K and C, and calcium.
- Nuts – Walnuts are full of nutrients, omega-3 fatty acids, and compounds that may help reduce the inflammation that’s often associated with joint disease.
- Berries – Fruits are high in antioxidants, which can help fight inflammation, but berries also contain anthocyanins, another punch to reduce inflammation.
- Dark leafy greens – Spinach, kale, chard, and collard greens are rich in vitamin D, stress-fighting phytochemicals, and antioxidants. Vitamin D, which is essential for calcium absorption, can also boost the immune system.
Rehabilitation physical therapy can be a safe and effective option for treating the symptoms of arthritis. If you’re experiencing some warning signs of arthritis, have been suffering from the disease, or would like more information on how to prevent arthritis, give us a call or request an appointment to discuss your options.
Article by: Holly Lookabaugh
Deur, PT, DSc, GCS, CEEAA
Holly Lookabaugh is a practicing physical therapist, partner and Director of Clinical Services at Ivy Rehab Network. She has more than 40 years of experience in sports management with young athletes, and is board certified as a geriatric clinical specialist and certified exercise expert for aging adults. Deur is certified as an aquatic and oncology rehabilitation specialist and serves as adjunct faculty at Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University.