Ageing gracefully requires some preparation, so for your general, long term physical health, osteoarthritis prevention is a good focus to have earlier on in life.
Just as we plan financially for our retirement, so too should we plan for our health in retirement. Over the last century life expectancy has increased, yet the expected age of retirement is proportionally less. Consequently we potentially have twenty or so years of retirement after ceasing full time work. The better we have looked after ourselves physically in earlier years, the more options for physical related pursuits we will have later on. Conversely the more health problems we collect along the way the less physically capable we will be.
Like compound interest, the more we value our physical health, the greater the buffer for injury upon retirement. Being physically fit also allows us to continue building strength, stability and flexibility as we age, ultimately training our bodies so that we can live actively in the later phase of our lives.
What is Osteoarthritis
There are many forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid and psoriatic that relate to the immune system, yet one of the most common forms is osteoarthritis. Although this condition can occur in younger people its is more common for people to develop symptoms as they age, particularly for people aged over 45 years.
A type of joint disease, osteoarthritis is where the protective joint cartilage and underlying bone breaks down. Most common in the weight bearing joints of the body, the hips, knees and back, it has long been considered an unavoidable result of an active life where the joints have simply worn out. However there other factors to consider when it comes to osteoarthritis.
What contributes to the onset of Osteoarthritis?
Factors that contribute to osteoarthritis are more than just wear and tear. Being aware of these contributing elements can reduce the risk of osteoarthritis or delay its onset.
The greatest risk factor, excess weight in earlier years, will have an impact over time as the additional weight places pressure on the weight bearing joints such as knees and hips. Cartilage that cushions these joints being affected by this excess weight is obvious, yet the fat itself has shown to induce inflammation in the joints, which over time is also a contributing factor to osteoarthritis. Even being over your recommended weight by as little as four or five kilograms can lead to the alteration of the function of cartilage cells from destructive proteins, produced from fat tissue.
Genetics do play their part in whether you develop osteoarthritis, ranging from abnormalities that effect the protein that makes up the cartilage, to abnormal joint anatomy or alignment that results in accelerated wear and tear of the joint. Injuries that are repetitive, can also lead to Osteoarthritis, whether this be continued damage to a joint, tendon or ligament through sport, or strains and wear from a job that has repetitive movement or load on the body. Injury can also set up weakness within muscles that over time effect the joint’s movement, so being proactive with prompt treatment and ongoing management of the affected area will pay off in the long term.
Of course the moist unavoidable factor is ageing itself. Short of stopping time, there is little we can do prevent this natural process. Yet by being mindful of those elements that have an adverse effect on not only our joints but general well being, will see us move more gracefully into old age.
Positive measures to offset or manage osteoarthritis
As obesity is one of the greatest risk factors, sticking to a healthy weight is essential in delaying the onset of osteoarthritis, as well as management of the disease. The greatest contributor to weight loss is diet, and a healthy one will help more than just osteoarthritis. Further to this, it has been found that women who maintain a healthy diet, that has a high amount of fruit and vegetables (in particular alliums such as garlic, onion and leek) showed less evidence of early hip osteoarthritis.
Whilst reducing weight has the most impact in dealing with this disease, it is also advisable to add in exercise. By maintaining or improving muscle strength, tone, and general conditioning you can ensure that muscle around the joint will be sufficient enough to protect it from injury.
Also during weight loss, muscle mass may also be reduced and as such extra measures may be required. After all you would not wish to have lost weight, to then go on to sustain a joint injury because of having insufficient muscle to supporting that area. It is worth seeking information and advice as to how best manage your exercise and diet to avoid this scenario. For example daily protein intake is the single most important dietary requirement for maintaining muscle, so it important to know just how much should be part of your diet.
Physiotherapy advice and osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis does not just suddenly appear when you reach old age, but rather the symptoms build up over time. As such, the combination of regular exercise and maintaining an ideal weight is something that can begin at any stage of life. So too, it is important to take care your body as you age, since injuries to a joint over time increase degeneration, potentially leading to the clinical syndrome of post traumatic osteoarthritis.
If you are prone to a certain sport, work or lifestyle related joint injury, then it is worth discussing with your physiotherapist ways in which to reduce the risk and incidence of high level impact and loading. If planning on undertaking intense physical activity, such as a more physical job, participating in a higher level of sporting competition or beginning an exercise program, it is wise to have a thorough evaluation of your joint structure and function before commencing.
Whether or not you are found to have adequate muscle strength and healthy joints, with no contributing factors for the development of osteoarthritis, sensible physiotherapy advice for exercise will still apply. For example sport equipment that decreases the loading and therefore the impact on joints, is relevant to everyone. This includes footwear and gym equipment that absorbs impact, through to workplace and sporting venue surfaces that do the same.
If after all these measures and advice, you should sustain a joint injury, it is essential to seek appropriate treatment and rehabilitation before returning to sports or work activity. For joints injuries that are resistant to treatment then medication or surgery are a consideration. Further to this, engineering of new cartilage and joints may hold hope for some in the future .
For now it is worth working with, and taking care of, the joints we have. After all, remaining osteoarthritis free and physically active in old age, could literally mean that you have been rewarded in the long run.