What are Your Risk Factors?
Although osteoarthritis normally accompanies aging, osteoarthritic cartilage appears to differ in its chemical composition from "healthy" aged cartilage. Many experts now believe that osteoarthritis is a disorder caused by a genetic susceptibility combined with injury to the joint. Other factors that may contribute towards the condition include
- Being overweight. Excess weight puts stress on the joints, particularly the hips and knees
- Repeated overuse leading to cartilage damage
- Injury to the knee or hip increases your risk for developing osteoarthritis in these joints.
- Scar tissue and muscle spasm lead to blocked blood (nutrient) flow to the joints and lymphatic drainage (waste) away from the joint tissues. Lack of nutrient flow and waste drainage negatively affect healing and lead to an accumulation of damaging waste compounds within the joint capsule.
- Physical inactivity. This can be as harmful to the joints as overuse. A lack of exercise or varied movement can weaken the muscles that support the joints and decrease joint flexibility. Eventually, underused joints may become stiff, painful, dysfunctional, and prone to injury and osteoarthritis.
- Being female. In general, arthritis occurs more frequently in women than men (although in the under-45 age group, the condition affects more men than women).
The following tips will help you control the pain of arthritis.
Exercise! Building activity into your life is always important, but particularly so if you have arthritis. All categories of exercise (aerobic, strength and flexibility) are beneficial for arthritis sufferers. If joint discomfort hampers your ability to exercise, plan to build some activity into the times of day when you experience less pain. Muscles and the other tissues that support the joints weaken when they aren't moved enough, causing the joint to lose its shape, function, circulation and drainage. With loss of shape, function and circulation comes increased wear and tear on joint tissue.
Exercise helps to lessen the symptoms of osteoarthritis, making you feel better overall. Moderate stretching exercises, including supervised yoga and Pilates, will help relieve the pain and keep the muscles and tendons around the affected joint stronger and more flexible. Low-impact exercises like swimming, walking, water aerobics and stationary bicycling can all reduce pain while maintaining strength and flexibility. Always consult a doctor before beginning a new exercise program.
Protect your joints. Learn to "listen" to your body and stop any activity that gives rise to pain. Alternate heavy or repetitive tasks with easier tasks and build breaks into your daily schedule. Take advantage of the many helpful devices designed for arthritis sufferers such as jar openers and wide-handled mugs. Use carts instead of carrying heavy loads and use chairs with a straight back, high seat and arms, enabling you to "push off" from a sitting position.
Control your weight. When you weigh less, reduced stress is put on your joints. This is particularly true for the knees and other weight-bearing joints. Reduced stress on the joints means less pain. Increasing your activity level will help you to lose weight.
Revise your diet. Add more raw seeds and nuts such as pumpkin and flax seeds to your food intake; these foods contain health promoting omega 3 fatty acids, to reduce joint inflammation. Eat ginger and turnmeric as they have anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular benefits; increase your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables; eat more legumes (beans, peas); try to eliminate foods containing hydrogenated oils, cut down on foods rich in animal fats, particularly fatty meats (beef, pork) and high-fat dairy products.
Learn to relax. Developing relaxation and coping skills can contribute to the feeling of being in control over your arthritis. Try deep breathing exercises, listen to music or relaxation tapes, or visualize a pleasant activity such as sitting by a peaceful lake or lying on a beach.
Use heat and cold. Applying heat or cold to your joints can provide temporary relief of pain and stiffness. Heat helps to relax sore or aching muscles and cold will numb them. Remember to place a towel or cloth between your skin and the source of heat or cold.
Position Joints Wisely. This will help avoid excessive stress on the joints. Use your back, arms and legs to avoid putting extra stress on joints. For example, carry a heavy load close to your body. Using grab bars and shower seats in the bathroom can help you to conserve energy and avoid falls. Use your larger, stronger joints to bear the weight of loads. (For example, use a shoulder bag instead of a handheld one.) Avoid staying in the same position for long periods of time.
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