Arthritis is a common health problem. It affects more than 50 million adults in the U.S. and is the leading cause of disability.
And it’s not just a condition older people get. Two-thirds of those with arthritis are between 16 and 64 years old.
Are You at Risk?
There are many types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis (also known as degenerative arthritis) is the most common type. It may affect joints anywhere in the body. It alters the hands and larger weight-bearing joints such as hips and knees. Osteoarthritis can cause pain and deformity and can limit a joint’s range of motion. Over 30 million American adults have osteoarthritis.
Arthritis may also result from inflammatory health problems that can happen anywhere in the body. The most common inflammatory condition is rheumatoid arthritis. More than a million American adults have rheumatoid arthritis.
Some things can increase the chances that you will develop arthritis. It is much more common in people who have other ongoing health problems, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
If you have arthritis, there are ways to manage the condition so you have less pain and better quality of life.
What Can You Do?
Not being physically active or maintaining a healthy weight are particularly bad for arthritis — and they are risk factors for other health issues. So get some exercise and watch your weight. Both can help lessen pain and fatigue. They might also help you avoid joint injuries.
If you have joint pain, it might seem like exercising could make your pain worse, but exercise is an important part of treating arthritis. Staying active can help improve function and range of motion for your joints.
Exercise can also help you lose extra pounds. Maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of managing, and even preventing, osteoarthritis. Each pound of weight loss takes four pounds of pressure off each knee. That means losing a few pounds can ease the pressure on your joints, not only in your knees, but also in your hips and back. Joint-friendly exercises, including yoga, tai chi and walking in water, can help you lose weight and boost your energy and mood.
In addition to helping maintain a healthy weight, a healthy diet can also help reduce the joint inflammation and swelling that cause pain. Consider eating more salmon, tuna or other fish that have fatty acids that may help reduce inflammation. Drinking green tea may also help control inflammation and prevent joint damage.
And don’t skip fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans, which can help your heart and your joints. You should also limit processed foods and saturated fats and avoid too much alcohol, which can cause problems if taken with some drugs for some types of arthritis.
Besides diet and exercise, there are ways you can lessen specific pain. There are gels, creams and patches you put on your skin that may help reduce pain by numbing nerve endings or reducing inflammation.
With your doctor’s recommendation, physical therapy may be helpful. In addition to reducing pain, physical therapy exercises can improve posture, strength, function and range of motion. You might start by working with a physical therapist on a program of strengthening, stretching and aerobics. But it’s vital to not overdo exercise. Low-impact activities such as swimming, water aerobics and cycling are best.
Don’t overdo it.
Taking time to rest and improving your sleep can help your arthritis. Pacing yourself and taking breaks during activity can help you manage painful joints. And better sleep habits can reduce fatigue, which can worsen arthritis pain.
Sources: Living with Arthritis, What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis, Arthritis Foundation; Arthritis, Symptoms and Causes, Mayo Foundation, 2018; Osteoarthritis (OA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2018; Rheumatoid Arthritis, CDC, 2018; Arthritis: Frequently Asked Questions, CDC, 2017; Arthritis of the Wrist and Hand, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, 2017; Osteoarthritis, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institutes of Health, 2016; Using Heat and Cold for Pain Relief, Arthritis Foundation