If you or someone you love suffers from arthritis, you (or they) are not alone. Chances are if you have arthritis, you may have osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis, or OA, is a progressive degenerative disease which may eventually destroys the joints it affects. It affects over 20 million people in the United States, and becomes more common with age.
With osteoarthritis, the cartilage, or padding between the bones in the joint becomes worn and thin. This causes increased friction between the bones, which in turn leads to a loss of mobility in the joint. It may also cause new bone growths, or bone spurs, to form around the joints. The end result is you have a joint which is painful and does not move as well as it should.
The older you get, the greater your risk of osteoarthritis becomes. If you are overweight, you are greatly increasing your risk of being affected by this form of arthritis. Once OA begins, being overweight will accelerate the ravaging effects of this disease on your joints. Osteoarthritis can also be caused by joint injury, joint overuse, as well as chronic inflammation. Most commonly you will find symptoms of osteoarthritis in your hands, feet, spine, hips, knees and ankles.
Prevention consists first of incorporating moderate, low intensity physical activity in your daily routine. Activities such as walking, biking, and use of home exercise equipment such as elliptical trainers or stair climbers performed throughout your lifetime has been proven to make a significant impact on preventing OA. Secondly, reducing your body weight decreases the risk of developing OA. Lastly, preventing injuries to the joints commonly affected by OA will improve the chances of avoiding it.
If it is too late for prevention, your greatest hope is managing your osteoarthritis, as there are no known cures for this condition. Management is available several different ways, depending on the contributing factors to your situation. If obesity is a contributing factor, reducing your weight will greatly reduce your pain and help slow the progression of damage within your joints.
There is no magic pill or bullet to help you lose weight. The best way for you to reduce your weight is through eating smaller portion sizes and increasing your physical activity level. A simple way to eat less is to eat 2/3 of your normal portion size. When done so regularly, you will decrease your food intake enough to help you decrease weight. The beauty of it is that you won’t struggle with still feeling hungry after every meal.
Selecting more fruits and vegetables will also help you eat less, as they are dense foods – foods which contain a large volume of water. Dense foods fill you up faster and cause you to eat less at each sitting. Dark-colored fruits and vegetables, especially those that are blue or purple, have been found to be very rich in agents called phytochemicals, which are greatly beneficial to your health and well-being.
Physical activity doesn’t have to mean exercise. Being physically active means movement more so then hitting the gym and “working out”. Perhaps one of the best methods you can use to increase your physical activity is to begin using a pedometer. Keep track of the number of steps you make in a regular day over the course of two weeks. Then work to increase your steps by 3000 per day for the next 60-90 days. Once this new level of activity becomes habit, re-evaluate your level of activity and work to increase your steps again by another 3000 per day. If you really want to make this program work for you, get a friend to walk with you. Having someone hold you accountable is a great way to improve your compliance to any physical activity program.
Doing resistive exercises which target the joints affected by osteoarthritis has also been found to slow the progression of this condition. The key is to do one set of many repetitions at a very low amount of weight. Elastic bands or weights can be used, and you can very slowly increase the resistance over time.
Supplements which help protect the cartilage in the joints can also be very beneficial to arthritis sufferers. Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate have been found to benefit the joints. Another supplement, known as SAMe, or S-Adenosyl-methionine, has been found to be a very effective, although more expensive, approach for osteoarthritis.
Relief from the pain of osteoarthritis without the side effects common to prescription medication can be found in topical analgesics that contain menthol, camphor and/or methyl salicylate. There does not appear to be any harm from using these products on a repeated basis, which lends to their strong popularity.
There are over 40 different medications are currently on the market which are commonly prescribed to deal with the effects of arthritis. Finding the one that is right for you can be expensive, frustrating and potentially dangerous. Getting relief from the aching in your joints as well as the muscle soreness that often accompanies stiff, swollen joints can be a daunting challenge.
Osteoarthritis is a challenging condition to treat. Exercise and topical pain relievers are the best non-prescription approaches to managing this disease.