Aching Joints? You’re Not Alone
It’s a pain many of us face sooner or later. Arthritis is one of the most common chronic diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 25 percent of adults have arthritis. It is nearly three times more common in women and becomes more common as we age.
Arthritis involves swelling and tenderness in the joints. The primary symptoms include joint pain, stiffness and swelling, which typically worsen with age.
Types of Arthritis
While there are more than 100 different types of arthritis, the most common type is osteoarthritis, which is associated with aging and wear and tear of the cartilage that causes it to break down. The second most common type is rheumatoid arthritis, a disease in which the immune system attacks the joints, beginning with the lining of the joints. Other common types include gout and lupus.
What Causes Arthritis?
Many forms of arthritis have a genetic component. Genetics appears to play an increased role in the development of osteoarthritis, particularly if it develops in the hands and knees. Researchers have found that a specific combination of genes can significantly increase your risk for rheumatoid arthritis.
Women have an increased prevalence of osteoarthritis for several reasons. First, research suggests that female hormones have an effect on the cushioning cartilage that lines the bones of the joints to facilitate smooth joint movement. After menopause, women begin to lose that protection as estrogen levels drop. Women’s joints are also looser and less stable, which can make them more prone to injuries. Injured joint areas are more likely to develop arthritis as you age.
Contrary to popular belief, exercise does not cause arthritis. However, if you already have arthritis, vigorous and strenuous exercise that involves the affected joints can make arthritis worse. In addition, a severe injury to the joint such as a knee injury, severe ankle sprain or fracture can predispose you to developing arthritis later in life.
Tips to Prevent Arthritis
Maintaining a healthy weight and following an anti-inflammatory diet are key to delaying the onset of arthritis.
Extra weight puts additional stress on the joints. You should also maintain good muscle strength around your joints and participate in low-stress exercise like walking, swimming and bicycling. Avoid exercise that over stresses arthritic joints.
Foods like lean protein (fish and chicken) and whole grains (rice, oats, quinoa) should be part of your meal plan. Cut out processed foods, alcohol and sugar.
How is Arthritis Treated?
Treatment for osteoarthritis can start with conservative options like ice and/or heat, which may provide short-term relief. Additional treatment may include oral medications, injections and physical therapy.
Unfortunately, there are no cures for most kinds of arthritis. However, there are many medications available today that can help relieve or reduce your symptoms.
If you suspect you may have arthritis, you should be evaluated by your doctor. They can determine what type of arthritis you have and recommend appropriate treatment that will help minimize symptoms and can help slow the progression of joint damage.
Reach out to your Primary Care Provider for more information.
Evangelos Giakoumatos is a CHI Health MD, specialized in sports and family medicine.