Arthritis is an extremely painful condition that affects over six million Canadians. It affects the joints, especially the hands, hips or knees, and results in significant swelling, redness and even debilitating pain. While there is no single cause, key factors include injuries, infections, autoimmune dysfunction, genetic predispositions and general wear & tear. Even though there is no sure way to completely prevent arthritis, here are four things you can do to help reduce your risk.
1. Maintain a Healthy Weight
The heavier we are, the more stress and strain we put on our joints. This added pressure this creates makes it harder for the joint to move properly. It creates increased friction within the joint which causes the cartilage inside to break down and this deterioration is what can lead to arthritis. By staying active and eating a healthy diet, we can maintain a healthy weight have a much better chance of minimize our arthritis risk.
For many people, the idea of exercising or staying active to help manage our weight conjures up images of hours spent stressing & straining in a gym. However, the level of activity needed to maintain a healthy weight is considerably less than you might think. Generally speaking, 20-30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic physical activity per day, in bouts of 10 mins or more, is all it takes. And it doesn’t have to be in a gym. A little brisk walking, hiking, cycling, yoga or light weight/resistance training in or around your home will do the trick.
Of course, staying active is only part of the equation when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight. Eating a balanced diet based on natural vs processed foods including healthy fats, limited sugar & wheat and a focus on smaller portion sizes can do wonders. It ensures we get the nutrients, vitamins and minerals our bodies need to function properly without adding the extra weight and inflammation that compromises our joints causes the symptoms of some forms of arthritis to worsen.
2. Avoid Overstressing Your Joints
Every day, we act in ways that place unnecessary stress or strain on our joints. However, being mindful of these actions, their consequences and the changes we need to make can have a big difference to how our joints hold up over the years. Lifting things using improper form, trying to lift something that’s too heavy, spending hours on end at a keyboard or constantly looking down at a cell phone are all well-known examples of how our poor biomechanics affect us every day. Another example is wearing high heels. Although this is most often talked about in terms of its impact on the lower back, this simple fashion choice can also cause a lot of added stress and strain on so many different joints of the body including the ankles, knees and hips. While wearing heels may look good, it could be argued that the long-term price is just too high.
Another behaviour that many still engage in that is also bad for our joints is smoking. We all know just how bad smoking is for our lungs but what most people don’t know is that the toxins we ingest from smoking also break down the cartilage in our joints. After years of smoking, this cumulative damage leaves joints even more susceptible to arthritis. So, if you’re a smoker and need one more reason to quit, maybe this could be it.
3. Strengthen & Protect Your Muscles
While protecting our joints directly is important for reducing our risk of arthritis, it’s also important to strengthen and protect the muscles that support the joints. For the most part, staying active will help to keep your muscles strong and your joints properly supported. However, if you have a particular area of relative weakness or are already starting to feel discomfort in specific joints, some targeted strengthening exercises may be advantageous.
Of course, an important part of protecting our muscles is taking the time to warm up and stretch properly before any physical activity. Warming up for 10-15 minutes increases our body temperature and sends increased blood flow to our muscles while stretching increases flexibility and resiliency. Both of these are very important for getting our bodies ready to perform any physical task and for reducing our risk of injury.
When it comes to stretching, it’s better to focus on dynamic stretching before your activity and static stretching afterwards. Dynamic stretching involves moving your muscles and joints through a full range of motion while you stretch rather than simply holding one position as you would with a static stretch. This is meant to mimic the movements that you would do while exercising whereas the static stretching which is part of your cool down, helps your body shut down comfortably.
4. Get Help, If Needed
While there’s nothing being recommended here that’s overly technical or particularly complicated, there are definitely circumstances where having some professional help can be advantageous. It’s far easier, for example, to maintain a healthy weight than it is to lose weight, especially if it’s a large amount of weight.
If you do need to lose weight and if you feel intimidated by the prospect, perhaps because you’ve tried before and had mixed or unsustainable success, it might be helpful to work with Physiotherapist. As a regulated health professional with expertise in how our bodies move and function, a Physiotherapist can work with you to create a safe and healthy weight loss plan that takes your physiological history and current state into account. They can prescribe and teach you exercises & stretches that won’t exacerbate your old injuries or lead to new ones. They can also help with managing any physiological challenges that may arise during your weight loss process and can even show you how to apply proper functional movement to help protect your joints while you perform your regular daily living activity.
As indicated above, physical activity is only part of the process when it comes to losing weight. While there is a large amount of information about nutrition available, as with exercise, sometimes it’s helpful to work with a professional such as a Nutritionist, Registered Dietician or Naturopathic Doctor. They can help by teaching you more about healthy eating and by developing a customized dietary plan that will work for you. You could even have a Naturopath help you with quitting smoking. This is another area where many people often need professional help. If you’re a long-term smoker and have had trouble quitting before, you may also want to see an MD for prescription level cessation aids.
In addition to providing expertise, these professionals can also provide motivational support along the way and help to keep you on track; even if it’s just during your initial transition.
There’s no getting around the effects of aging and Arthritis is definitely one of the most common ones. However, by taking some small but meaningful steps, we can help to reduce our risk of developing Arthritis and be in a better position to mitigate its’ effects if it does develop, so that we can enjoy long, healthy and reasonably pain-free lives. If you need help with reducing your risk of developing Arthritis or if you’re currently suffering from Arthritis and need help, contact us today and let us show you why, at Physiomed, Healthier Starts Here.