Despite being called a ‘wear and tear’ disease - implying that arthritis is an inevitable part of ageing and something which should only impact older people - research suggests that the onset of arthritis is actually a complex process with multiple causes.
“Whilst there is no sure-fire way to definitely ensure you won’t develop this condition,” says Jana Abelovska, Superintendent Pharmacist at Click Pharmacy, “making lifestyle changes can really help to reduce the strain on your joints, which will in-turn keep them healthier for longer.” If you already have osteoarthritis in one or more joints and want to avoid more joints developing this condition, there are precautions you can take to reduce this risk.
Osteoarthritis is more likely with age as cartilage deteriorates. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition which is not caused by hormones, but there are theories suggesting that post-menopausal women are at higher risk of osteoarthritis because of hormone changes, particularly a decrease of oestrogen. Even as you get older, however, there are lifestyle precautions you can take to reduce the risk of developing osteoarthritis, and ways to slow and prevent further damage. Read on for our 7 tips to reduce the risk of arthritis!
Whilst you may be concerned that exercise could damage your joints further, the opposite actually seems to be true - as long as you listen to your body, use modifications where necessary and stop if you feel pain. “Staying active is important for joint flexibility and pain management. Try low-impact activities like swimming, walking, or cycling,” says Adeem Azhar, Clinical Pharmacist and Co-Founder of Healthcare Organization Core Prescribing Solutions.Anything that gets your body moving counts as exercise, and it’s important to choose things that you enjoy and want to stick at. Lower impact exercises like swimming are a good idea if you have arthritis, as well as yoga, pilates, dancing, gardening, walking, tai chi - or even cleaning the house!
2. Maintaining a healthy weight
Excess weight is one of the biggest risk factors for developing or worsening osteoarthritis, because that weight puts extra pressure on load-bearing joints. Each extra pound adds nearly four pounds of stress to your knees and increases the pressure on your hips.
Fat tissues also produce immune system proteins called cytokines which can boost inflammation in the body. Losing just a bit of weight can make a lot of difference to your joints and overall health, and it doesn’t mean you have to do gruelling workouts or give up foods that you enjoy. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet with appropriate portion sizes - alongside finding forms of exercise which you enjoy - is far more likely to help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight than strict, unhealthy and impossible-to-stick-to diets ever will.
3. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
A healthy, balanced diet is one that includes all the vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbs and fats that you need to feel energised and alert throughout the day. This doesn’t mean never eating junk food again, but it does mean enjoying treats and snacks as part of a healthy balanced diet, being mindful of calories and eating things which make you feel good inside in the long run.
“A healthy, balanced diet can help reduce inflammation and promote joint health,” says Adeem Azhar. “Foods high in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D are particularly beneficial.” Want tips on healthy balanced recipes? Take a look at our healthy eating guide.
4. Take care of your body
“Those wanting to reduce their arthritis risk should be mindful of how they are taking care of their bodies,” says Jana Abelovska. “Keeping hydrated by drinking lots of water is key, alongside monitoring your Vitamin D levels and taking supplements if necessary.” High heels can put strain on the back and knees, so opting for more ergonomic shoes can make a big difference to your overall quality of life.
Taking care of your body means getting enough sleep, stretching, and practising self care - which could involve meditation, breathwork or other activities that promote relaxation and mental wellbeing. Some people also find alternative therapies helpful. “The ancient practice of acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to promote healing,” says Adeem Azhar. “Studies have shown that acupuncture can be effective in reducing pain and improving function in people with arthritis.”
5. Try hot and cold therapy
“Applying heat or cold to the affected area can help reduce stiffness and pain,” says Adeem Azhar. “Heat can improve blood flow and promote relaxation, while cold can reduce swelling and inflammation.”
If you have an acute injury (a sudden injury due to overuse or accident) you may want to try cold therapy, like applying an ice pack to the affected area. This is because cold therapy reduces blood flow to the affected area, which can diminish swelling and inflammation.
If you’re struggling with stiff joints, using heat therapy (such as a hot bath or applying a heat pad) can be really soothing because it increases blood flow to the area and helps cultivate more oxygen and nutrients.
6. Use supportive devices
If you want to avoid damage (or further damage) to your joints, it’s important not to put unnecessary continuous pressure on them. This doesn’t mean spending the rest of your days lying in bed (this is actually a really bad idea and would decrease strength and mobility over time) but it does mean not pushing yourself to your limits. Using supportive devices like ergonomic keyboards, walking sticks, padded tools, handles in the bathroom to help you get around and so on can make a huge difference to your quality of life.
“Using assistive devices like canes, braces, or splints can help reduce joint stress and improve mobility,” says Adeem Azhar. “Ergonomic tools with padded handles or grips can also make tasks easier and more comfortable.” You could also consider getting your food delivered rather than carrying it, investing in wheelable tools to help you do household tasks, and remembering to ask for help if you need it.
7. Watch your blood sugar
Sustained high levels of blood sugar can cause damage to various parts of the body, including the eyes, kidneys and blood vessels. High blood sugar can also speed up the formation of molecules which cause the cartilage to stiffen and become more sensitive. Diabetes can also trigger inflammation which can lead to cartilage damage. It’s important to watch your blood sugar levels in general and work with your doctor to maintain or bring them down, and it’s especially important if you have arthritis and want to prevent further damage to your joints.
“Whilst there is no sure-fire way to definitely ensure you won’t develop this condition, making these lifestyle changes can really help to reduce the strain on your joints, which will therefore keep them healthier for longer,” says Jana Abelovska.
What do you do to reduce your risk of arthritis, or to stop further damage to your joints? Let us know on Facebook.
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