Arthritis is often stigmatized as a disease that solely affects the elderly community. Though the incidence of arthritis does increase with age, this disease is not age or gender specific. Arthritis sufferers include both men and women and can occur at any stage of life. Arthritis prevention is relevant for everyone and a better understanding of it can benefit both arthritis patients and people who are not afflicted with the disease. Because of this, the Month of May has been deemed as National Arthritis Month in an effort to help educate our local community about how to prevent and/or manage arthritis.
Arthritis, literally meaning “joint inflammation,” is a blanket term for more than 100 conditions associated with joint pain, joint stiffness and swelling, the most common being osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Certain arthritic conditions can affect parts of the body other than the joints. For example, tendons, muscles, and skin can become inflamed and painful. Some conditions can also affect internal organs and result in life-threatening complications.
Arthritis is a very broad disease because there are many different types, symptom patterns and treatment options used. Nearly 40 million Americans are affected by arthritis, including a quarter million children. In fact, nearly 3 out of 5 people with arthritis are under age 65. Many young people who have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis – often referred to as ‘wear-and-tear’ arthritis that most commonly affects the joints in your hands, neck, lower back, knees and hips – may have developed joint problems as a result of injury. For instance, if you break a bone or tear a ligament on the high school football field, you could end up with arthritis in that joint by college graduation. Damaging a joint makes your chances of developing arthritis seven times greater, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Arthritis can also be brought upon by metabolic problems, infections, and/or obesity.
Arthritis cannot always be prevented. Some causes—such as increasing age and hereditary factors—are beyond your control. However, there are several things you can do to reduce your risk of developing painful joints as you get older. Here are some guiding principles to follow:
Watch your weight. Weight is one of the primary causes of early arthritis. Increased weight can put more stress on your joints. If you are overweight, strive to drop those extra pounds and maintain a healthy weight.
Control your diet. By eating plant-based anti-inflammatory foods and avoiding processed foods and sugars, you can help slow the progression or prevent arthritis. Without sufficient fruits, veggies and omega-3 fatty acids, arthritis could arise earlier in life.
Exercise properly. Being physically active is good for your joints, if done right. It is important to minimize stress that you put on your knees or hips while staying active. By enjoying low-impact activities like swimming, biking, or using an elliptical trainer, you can to stay fit without straining your joints.
Stretch often. Stretching will increase muscle tone and can help boost the range of motion of your joints. Just make sure you warm up your muscles and joints before stretching – stretching before warming up can further aggravate joint pain and even strain your muscles.
Drink more water. Water makes up 70 percent of the cartilage in joints and is essential to keeping them lubricated so bones don't rub up against each other. Be sure to drink eight cups a day.
Men and women of all ages should educate themselves on the conditions of arthritis. If left undiagnosed and untreated, many types of arthritis can cause irreversible damage to the joints, bones, organs, and skin, but by following the tips above, you can help prevent the early onset of this harmful disease. There are a number of various treatment options available to those who are suffering from arthritis, including ligament repair, joint preservation, cartilage reconstruction, stem cell implantation to accelerate and improve the healing of tendons and ligaments, among others, all dependent upon the nature of the pain. If you or a loved one is suffering from joint pain, I encourage you to contact your local orthopedic surgeon to discuss treatment options in honor of National Arthritis Month.
Dr. Tauro is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon at Ocean County Sports Medicine, located in Toms River, NJ. He specializes in the prevention and treatment of sports injuries and degenerative joint conditions, and is recognized worldwide as an innovator in the development of advanced minimally-invasive treatment methods and procedures. Dr. Tauro also serves as Clinical Associate Professor of Orthopedics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. More information on Dr. Tauro and his practice can be found at www.doctortauro.com.
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