Your Anti-Aches & Pains Guide
A Joint-Protection Program
Even before you feel any pain, it's important to take control of the preventable factors that increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis. Follow these strategies:
Exercise. Since obesity is the top preventable risk factor, maintaining a healthy weight is key to avoiding osteoarthritis. Low-impact exercise will help you shed pounds without stressing your joints. Also, using the weight machines at the gym to build your thigh muscles -- both quad and hamstring -- is a smart preventive measure. The stronger your thighs are, the more they'll stabilize and protect your knees.
Also, pain is not gain. Lessening the stress on a joint when it starts to ache can minimize cartilage damage. If your knees hurt when you jog, for instance, switch to a gentler activity, such as swimming.
Vary your movements. Since repetitive movements can also do harm, Kenneth D. Brandt, MD, professor of orthopaedic surgery at the Indiana University School of Medicine, in Indianapolis, suggests protecting your joints while performing your daily activities. "For people with bad hip or knee problems," he recommends, "it helps to store frequently used kitchen and pantry items at higher levels so they can be reached without bending. Also, a lazy Susan can be very useful."
Opt for sensible shoes. Scientists at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, found that wearing heels two inches or taller shifts your body weight, increasing the force on your knees. "This can cause degenerative changes in the joint," says lead researcher D. Casey Kerrigan, MD, chair of physical medicine and rehabilitation.
Squeezing your feet into too-narrow shoes can also spell trouble. A bunion can form when the big toe is persistently pushed inward. Over time this misalignment can cause bone and cartilage in the toe joint to wear away, leading to osteoarthritis, explains Marlene Reid, DPM, a spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association, in Bethesda, Maryland.
Eat well. A diet that's good for your overall health may also be good for your joints. Studies suggest that eating more fish, fruits, and vegetables while limiting refined sugar and flour can ease pain and inflammation. "Making these changes may help with weight loss, which does reduce osteoarthritis pain or your risk of developing it," says rheumatologist Hayes Wilson, MD, medical adviser to the Arthritis Foundation. "Dropping 10 pounds is equivalent to taking 30 pounds of pressure off your knees."
Getting plenty of daily bone-building vitamin D and calcium is also key. You need 400 international units of vitamin D and 1,000 milligrams of calcium (1,500 milligrams after menopause) to stave off bone fractures, which can lead to osteoarthritis if they occur near a joint. Boston University researchers also recently found that people deficient in vitamin D complained of more osteoarthritis pain and disability than those with adequate levels. As their vitamin D levels returned to normal over 30 months, their pain diminished and joint function improved.