Arthritis is not a single condition, and the term encompasses any one of more than 100 diseases of the joints. One type, though, is more common than the others: osteoarthritis. Often, when people talk about arthritis, they mean osteoarthritis, which results from normal wear-and-tear on your joints.
At Dr. Louis Keppler and Associates, our highly trained providers see patients who seem to think that arthritis is inevitable, and depending on your age and other factors, it can certainly seem like joint pain is unavoidable. Like so many other things, the truth is more complicated.
Before we get into what you can do to lower your chances of developing arthritis, we should talk about the most common type of the disease. More than 32 million US adults have osteoarthritis.
As you age, the tissue that cushions your joints and allows your bones to slide against each other without friction begins to weaken. Over time, that tissue, called cartilage, can begin to degrade, and your bones rub against each other. The result is swelling, pain, and the slow destruction of the affected joint.
Whether or not you develop osteoarthritis, or any other form of arthritis, depends on your personal risk factors as well as your behavior. Some risk factors you can control, and doing so reduces the chances you develop arthritis. Others are called unmodifiable risk factors—because you can’t change them.
Several of the most common risk factors for osteoarthritis are things that you can absolutely influence. For example, if you’re overweight, you can work to lose weight. Maintaining a healthy weight lowers stress on your joints.
Another important factor you can control is how your joints move. If you have a job that requires repetitive motions, for instance, you can talk to your doctor about how you can protect your joints. If you kneel frequently, lift, twist, or make the same motions with your hands throughout your workday, consider discussing with your doctor the ways you can protect your joints.
You may also choose to avoid foods that are associated with inflammation. Red meat, sugar, and highly processed foods are all known to increase inflammation in your body. Limiting how much of such foods you eat, while also making an effort to consume more vegetables, fruits, and foods high in fiber may help you avoid developing osteoarthritis.
Staying physically active is another way to lower your risk of developing arthritis. Keeping the muscles and other tissues that support your joints strong and flexible is crucial.
As you get older, your risk of developing osteoarthritis increases, and there’s nothing you can do about that. Similarly, women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis, particularly after menopause. You can’t stop being a woman, nor can you avoid menopause.
Your genetic make-up may also increase or decrease your risk of developing osteoarthritis. If everyone in your family over a certain age has arthritis, you should pay extra attention to your modifiable risk factors.
Another risk factor you can’t control is your race. Some populations have a higher risk than others.
It isn’t written in stone that, after a particular age, you’re going to have joint swelling and pain. You can certainly do things to reduce your risk. However, there’s nothing that you can do that will guarantee you won’t eventually have osteoarthritis.
If you have questions about your personal risk factors, schedule an appointment with an expert at Dr. Louis Keppler and Associates. We’re always happy to assess your situation and provide guidance based on your unique life.