Do you know Arthur and Ben? Well, you may not, but you will one day. It’s inevitable. We will all develop arthritis regardless of gender, race, class or country. It is not a question of “if,” but “when?” And Ben-gay? Yes, we will probably need that in our medicine cabinet at some point too. Although we can’t fully prevent arthritis, the good news is that there are ways to reduce your risk, delay onset and minimize the symptoms.
The surfaces where bones meet (called a joint) are covered with a smooth, shock-absorbing tissue called cartilage. Cartilage helps the joint glide effortlessly during movement. There are different kinds of arthritis, with the most common types being osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. With osteoarthritis, the cartilage wears away from overuse as we age or from a sudden injury.
When cartilage is worn away, the bones can rub together and cause pain, swelling or stiffness. Age, carrying extra weight, being female, a family history of osteoarthritis, and having diabetes or other types of arthritis can increase the risk of developing this condition.
While some of these factors you have no ability to change, a significant factor you have control of is your diet. It is proven in osteoarthritis, and gout (another form of arthritis), that if you eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight you minimize your risk. In rheumatoid arthritis, it is also recommended that you don’t smoke.
True prevention seems to be impossible, as we don’t know or fully understand the cause and mechanism behind these diseases. However, we do know that exercise helps by 1) maintaining a healthy weight, 2) increasing blood flow to the area and releasing lubricating fluid in the joint, and 3) increased strength of the muscles around the joints directly supports them. If you are unsure of what exercises to perform or how to exercise, visit your physical therapist to teach you how to properly work out without hurting yourself.
To help minimize symptoms, check out Tom’s article elsewhere in the newsletter.
By Effie Koustas, MPT