Everybody’s heard of arthritis but not everybody appreciates that arthritis isn’t a single disease. In fact, the term is used to describe over 200 conditions that affect the joints, connective tissue, and other tissue around the joints of people of all ages. It’s estimated that more than 50 million adults and 300,000 children in the U.S. are impacted by arthritis.
The most common symptoms of arthritis are pain, swelling, stiffness, and decreased range of motion. Virtually any joint in your body can be impacted. The severity of symptoms can range from mild to severe and, in some instances, may come and go. For some people, the disease can progress very slowly and may even hold steady for years, not having a great impact on the quality of life. But for those with severe arthritis, pain can be chronic and may make simple daily activities, including walking, getting dressed, preparing meals, etc., difficult.
The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis which occurs when the cartilage that normally covers and cushions the ends of bones begins to wear away. The resulting bone-on-bone contact leads to the telltale pain, swelling, and stiffness. Without cartilage in place to cushion the bone, the pain can become chronic as the joint becomes further damaged. It’s not uncommon for the joint to actually weaken over time.
While osteoarthritis is more common as we age, there are a few things you can do to prevent its progress.
The first is to maintain a healthy weight. The less extra weight you carry on the your body’s frame, the less strain you put on your joints; especially the hips, knees, and feet. Even if you already have osteoarthritis, losing weight is a great way to lessen pain and damage to your joints.
Next, you need to stay active. Despite the pain that arthritis can cause, regular physical activity helps arthritis in a few ways. First, it can help to strengthen the muscles around the joints and increase flexibility. Low impact exercises like riding a bike, swimming, rowing, resistance bands, and walking are all good choices for building strength without putting too much pressure on your joints. An added bonus of regular exercise is that it actually helps lubricate the joints which, in turn, eases pain and makes for easier movement. A phrase you’ll sometimes hear doctors use while counseling arthritis patients is “rest is rust and motion is lotion.” But it’s more than a phrase as there’s plenty of science to back up the value of exercising to prevent arthritis as well as to minimize the symptoms.**
Avoiding injury is also key to preventing arthritis. While that may mean not jumping off high walls to some, avoiding injury can also be accomplished simply by using proper technique while using your body. If you repeat the same bad form while swimming, lifting weights, or engaging in daily activities such as sitting and lifting, you can actually contribute to arthritis. If you’re taking up a new exercise, be sure to speak with a trainer or coach to make sure you’re helping and not hurting yourself. If you’re having arthritic pain doing basic tasks, you may benefit from seeing an occupational therapist who can correct bad habits.
While very common, arthritis isn’t necessarily a part of everyone’s future—or yours. Maintaining a healthy weight and showing your body some love through proper exercise and activities can help. If you start to develop symptoms, see your doctor sooner than later so that together you can look for ways to slow its progress and preserve your mobility.