What is Arthritis?
Many people associate arthritis with debilitating joint pain and swelling that affects millions. Not surprisingly, many people would like to know how to prevent arthritis.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, it’s the leading cause of disability in the United States, affecting 60 million adults and 300,000 children.
It tends to affect people more with advancing age and is more common in women.
Types of Arthritis
- Degenerative Arthritis – The most common type is osteoarthritis. The cartilage on the ends of the bones wears away, resulting in bone rubbing against bone. This is what causes stiffness, swelling and pain.
- Inflammatory Arthritis – When the immune system malfunctions, it causes inflammation in the joints and other organs. Psoriatic, rheumatoid, gout and ankylosing spondylitis are all types of inflammatory arthritis. Inflammatory arthritis is often attributed to environmental and genetic factors.
- Infectious Arthritis – When viruses, bacteria and fungi get inside a joint, they can cause inflammation. This type of arthritis can become chronic if not treated in a timely manner with antibiotics.
- Metabolic Arthritis – Too much uric acid in the body builds up in the joints causing gout and resulting in spikes of pain or bouts of gout. It can become chronic if uric acid levels are not reduced. Some people produce too much uric acid, and foods high in uric acid can cause this as well.
Treatments for Arthritis
You have a wide array of options for addressing arthritis, some of which include nutritional supplements, herbs, physical therapy, exercise and dietary modification.
For people who don’t yet have symptoms or are experiencing the onset of symptoms the following approaches may help.
Reduce Your Risk of Arthritis
With gout, there are certain foods that are moderate to high in purines, which cause uric acid levels to rise, that you’ll want to avoid.
Some of the best foods for gout are skim milk, cherries, coffee and water.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends the following guidelines for exercise:
- Avoid high intensity exercise
- Choose a mode of exercise that is least painful
- Prior to exercise, warm up at a light intensity level
- Monitor your pain levels and avoid increasing pain
- Be aware that pain and swelling may impede functional performance
Aerobic exercise should be done 3-5 days per week at 40-59% of your heart rate reserve (HRR) or 60% or greater than your HRR; 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous intensity. Activities should emphasize low impact activities such as walking, cycling, swimming or aquatic exercise.
Resistance exercise should be done 2-3 days per week, 8-12 repetitions for 1-3 sets. Types of equipment can include free weights, machines, tubing or bands. Most people with arthritis can tolerate body weight exercises.
Flexibility exercise can be done daily. Stretching for range of motion (ROM) should be performed without pain. ROM can be increased when joint pain is negligible, or nonexistent.
Based on your pain and fitness levels, you may need to break up your exercise into 5 minute bouts, depending on what you can tolerate.
Avoid exercising during acute flare-ups.
Incorporate functional exercises into your workout.
Wear sturdy and comfortable athletic shoes that provide good shock absorption.
Choose a time of day to exercise when pain is the lowest.
Look for alternative exercise to ones that cause pain flare-ups.
During pool exercise, water temperature should be 83 to 88 degrees F (28 to 31 C) to make the joints and muscles more pliable.
Nutritional and Herbal Supplements
Supplements can be an effective component of your regimen to prevent arthritis or to keep it from getting worse.
But they are only one piece of the puzzle. Treating arthritis should be a multifaceted approach.
There are some things to be aware of when using herbal or nutritional supplements.
With lots of products on the market, how do you know which one to use?
An evidence-based approach should be part of the process. And this article will help you find the right nutritional or herbal supplements.
It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before taking a supplement.
You’ll want to weigh the risks against the benefits. The Natural Medicine Comprehensive Database may help.
Some products may be contraindicated for some people, especially those who have medical conditions, or are taking medication in which there may be an interaction.
Look for a seal of quality on the label, such as NSF International, U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) or ConsumerLab.com.
Watch out for unbelievable claims. If the claims don’t seem believable, they probably aren’t reliable.
The Best Evidence-Based Supplements for Arthritis
- SAM-e (S-adenosylmethionine)
- Boswellia Serrata (Indian Frankincense)
Boswellia Serrata demonstrated the ability to help rheumatoid arthritis by significantly reducing inflammation.
Curcumin was found to significantly improve and control the disease progression and symptoms in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Curcumin also inhibits the activity of molecular signals responsible for inflammation, the destruction of cartilage and the excessive growth of blood vessels related to inflamed joints.
- Avocado-soybean Unsaponifiables (ASU)
- Cat’s Claw
Investigators concluded that cat’s claw is an effective treatment for osteoarthritis. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of cat’s claw significantly reduced pain during activity, but not during rest during the four week trial.
- Fish Oil or Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA
Pain was significantly reduced by fish oil in overweight and obese patients with osteoarthritis in a 16 week study, compared to a placebo. Multiple studies have found fish oil to be an effective intervention against joint stiffness and tenderness in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA)
Rheumatoid arthritis patients showed significant improvement in signs and symptoms over a 6 month period when taking GLA. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that GLA is an effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis
Patients with knee osteoarthritis reported significantly improved symptoms over a 6 week period while taking ginger extract compared to a placebo group. A review of published studies on ginger concluded that ginger has a potential therapeutic role in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Glucosamine Chondroitin
Small to moderate improvement in preserving joint cartilage was found after 2 to 3 years of use in a meta-analysis of studies.
Ask a registered dietitian, naturopathic doctor or other health care professional who’s trained in nutritional and herbal supplementation for advice when you make a decision regarding a supplement.
Not only is being overweight a risk factor for a host of diseases, it exacerbates the symptoms of arthritis.
Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight can provide the following benefits:
- Pain reduction
- Less inflammation
- Less cartilage degeneration
- Reduced risk of gout
- Less pressure on joints
Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and preventing, or properly managing diabetes will reduce the risk of arthritis.
High blood sugar levels and diabetes make the joints less pliable and cause inflammation, eventually causing destruction of the joints.
Smoking is implicated in multiple disease risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis – another reason to stop smoking.
Protect Your Joints
Injured joints, especially with damaged cartilage, are at increased risk of developing arthritis.
So it makes sense to use good biomechanics and practice safety in your activities of daily living.
Repetitive motion tasks increase the risk of joint injuries and arthritis. Take regular breaks and add variety to your routine.
How to Prevent Arthritis Using a Total Wellness Approach
A puzzle requires many pieces to make a complete picture.
While your approach to preventing arthritis doesn’t have nearly as many pieces as a puzzle, you’ll find that following a total wellness approach will be the most effective way to fight arthritis.
After finding the strategy that works best, you’ll be on your way to reaching a more functional and fulfilling lifestyle.
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