Arthritis is a condition in which one or more of your joints become inflamed, often leading to stiffness, soreness, swelling, and in some cases, pain and decreased mobility. Arthritis is a general term used to describe conditions impacting the joints, tissues around the joints, and other connective tissues. Interestingly arthritis is not a single disease but rather an informal way of referring to joint pain or disease. There are, in fact, more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions. However, the most common types of arthritis include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis.
Who can develop arthritis?
Anyone can develop arthritis at any age. About one in four adults, 58.5 million, and 300,000 kids and teens in the United States have arthritis. However, that number is projected to increase as the population ages. Additionally, it is important to note that arthritis is more common among individuals with chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Thus, as the rates of these health conditions increase, so too are rates of arthritis expected the rise.
Risk factors increase your chance of developing a disease or illness. They can be associated with a characteristic, condition, or behavior, such as where you live, your family health history, or your lifestyle.
When preventing or reducing the likelihood of developing an illness or condition, such as arthritis, you must first identify what puts you at risk for developing the disease. Some risk factors you, unfortunately, cannot control, such as your age, gender, and inherited genetic traits. These are called unmodifiable risk factors.
Fortunately, many more factors are within your control. These are called modifiable risk factors. Modifiable risk factors are actions you can take to reduce or lower your risk of developing an illness. Essentially, these are things you can change.
Reduce your risk of arthritis.
Living with arthritis can be challenging. However, understanding what puts you at risk and making lifestyle changes can help prevent or delay some issues associated with arthritis.
Maintain a healthy body weight. Individuals who are overweight or obese are at increased risk of developing various chronic health conditions, including arthritis. Excess body weight can damage the joints and tissues around the joints, especially the hips and knees.
Furthermore, adipose or fat tissue releases chemicals associated with increases in several inflammatory markers, resulting in chronic low-grade inflammation. The low-grade inflammation further contributes to tissue breakdown, making the joints more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
Four to six pounds of pressure is placed on the knee joint for every pound of body weight. Therefore, losing as little as five pounds can reduce the pressure on the knee by at least 20 pounds. Weight loss can not only reduce joint pressure but also reduce levels of chronic low-grade inflammation, improving pain and quality of life.
Avoid joint injuries. Injury or overuse of anything is generally not good. And this is especially true for your joints. Intense and repetitive movements can damage joints due to overuse and thus increases the risk of developing osteoarthritis.
Additionally, post-traumatic arthritis can develop when a joint has experienced trauma, such as becoming twisted, sprained, overextended, or dislocated due to an accident, sports injury, or fall. Damage can also occur to the surrounding tissues, such as the ligaments and tendons, thereby increasing the risk of arthritis.
Therefore, taking preventive measures to protect joints is critical. The goal should be to minimize the stress placed on joints by avoiding positions or movements that place excess stress on joints.
Good posture and awareness of body position can help protect your joints. Additionally, taking breaks, changing positions, and using adaptive equipment can reduce joint pressure when staying in one place for an extended period.
When exercising or playing sports, incorporate strengthening and stretching activities. Resistance training will strengthen the muscles supporting the joints, allowing them to remain more flexible and helping maintain your range of motion. Also, consider modifying activities and participating in low-impact exercises, such as cycling, hiking, Pilates, swimming, or yoga.
Stop smoking. You have likely heard that smoking is bad for you. However, did you realize it harms almost every organ within the human body, including your joints and tendons?
Smoking increases the risk of developing heart and lung disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and bone fractures. It also increases the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis or worsens the condition if you already have it. Therefore, if you smoke, stop smoking to improve your overall health and the health of your bones and joints.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis, but there are steps you can take to treat and manage symptoms. Awareness of how your daily habits and actions will impact your short-term and long-term health is the first step—followed by taking intentional, consistent actions to decrease your overall risk. This is often the challenging part of life because, let’s face it – life is not easy.
Just remember, life is a journey. It has many seasons filled with an array of twists and turns. So no matter where you are in your journey, you can always take steps to change the path you are on by adopting healthier behaviors. Making changes, even small changes, will help you in your journey toward a life of wellness.
Arthritis. Cleveland Clinic
Juvenile Arthritis (JA). Arthritis Foundation.
Smoking and Arthritis. The Arthritis Society.