Deep, aching joint pain? Limited movement? Stiffness? These are all common symptoms of osteoarthritis, a condition caused by the breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage (“cushioning”) in the joints – often from natural aging.
Researchers have yet to discover a way to stop or slow the course of this joint disorder. Medication is often prescribed to help ease the pain and stiffness. Studies have shown, though, that certain lifestyle changes can help you cope with the discomfort, too.
Taking control with weight loss and exerciseSome people think the only way to treat arthritis is with medication or surgery. But this is not always the case. Talk to your doctor about trying the following effective lifestyle changes first:
Lose some weight
Excess weight is the biggest risk factor for developing osteoarthritis. Being overweight or obese puts undue stress on your joints. Plus the increased inflammation that stems from being overweight wears down cartilage.
- Keeping your body weight under control may cut your risk for osteoarthritis by 40 percent to 50 percent.
- Even a modest loss of just 5 percent of your body weight can help take the extra load off your knees and decrease pain.
- That means that for someone who weighs 200 pounds, losing just 10 pounds can help to ease discomfort.
Increase physical activity
Contrary to popular belief, it’s a mistake to avoid exercise in most cases. Inactivity can actually stiffen your joints even more. Activity reduces the inflammation that can make joints hurt worse.
- Exercise can help strengthen muscles, which helps to support joints.
- Low-impact activities such as swimming, cycling or rowing are the gentlest on your joints.
- High-impact activities (where your feet hit the ground), such as running, basketball and tennis, put extra stress on the joints and can make your condition worse.
Always check with our doctor before you start a new activity. Together you can choose an exercise prescription that is right for you.
What about supplements?
Many supplements are being sold that claim to “support healthy joints” or “rebuild cartilage.” Some of the more popular supplements include:
- Glucosamine and chondroitin
- MSM (methylsulfonylmethane)
- Hyaluronic acid
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Collagen and gelatin
Some research has shown that glucosamine may decrease pain and increase mobility in some people with arthritis. More studies are needed, though. Also, more research is needed to prove the safety and effectiveness of these other supplements.
A reduction in symptoms, though, has been proven in those who make lifestyle changes or use other modes of treatment, such as anti-inflammatories.
Try physical therapy
Physical therapy can help improve muscle strength and the motion at stiff joints in some osteoarthritis sufferers. Note, though, that if therapy does not make you feel better after three to six weeks, then it likely will not work at all.
Other types of support
Check with your doctor to see if any of the following would help you:
- Braces for any severely affected joints
- Special utensils to help make chores and daily life easier
So, don’t let osteoarthritis keep you down. And remember, a modest weight loss and increase in activity are natural prescriptions for warding off a host of other chronic diseases as well.
- Messier SP, Loeser RF, Miller GD, et al. Exercise and dietary weight loss in overweight and obese older adults with knee osteoarthritis: the Arthritis, Diet and Activity Promotion Trial. Arthritis and Rheumatism. 2004;50(5):1501-1510. Accessed: 09/29/2009
- Murphy L, Schwartz T, Helmick CG, et al. Lifetime risk of symptomatic knee osteoarthritis. Arthritis Care and Research. 2008;59:1207-1213. Accessed: 09/29/2009
- Arthritis Today. Goal: Ease osteoarthritis pain. Accessed: 09/29/2009
- American Collage of Rheumatology. Osteoarthritis. Accessed: 09/29/2009
By Jane Harrison, R.D., Staff Nutritionist, myOptumHealth
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