What is Osteoarthritis?
Arthritis is a complex family of musculoskeletal disorders consisting of more than 100 different diseases or conditions that destroy joints, bones, muscles, cartilage and other connective tissues, hampering or halting physical movement. Osteoarthritis is one of the oldest and most common forms of arthritis and is a chronic condition characterized by the breakdown of the joint’s cartilage. Cartilage is the part of the joint that cushions the ends of the bones and allows easy movement of joints. The breakdown of cartilage causes the bones to rub against each other, causing stiffness, pain and loss of movement in the joint.
Osteoarthritis has reached epidemic proportions and is cited as the most common disease affecting Americans over 50 years old. It has been identified as one of the top three concerns of the baby-boomer population. While osteoarthritis is commonly described as a “wear and tear” process of your joints, is also caused by obesity, inactivity, and poor nutritional choices.
Prescription drugs have failed to improve osteoarthritis long-term and are now correctly recognized as non-narcotic pain pills. Side effects from these drugs have lead to several drugs being pulled off the market, e.g. Vioxx and Bextra. Common side effects of NSAIDs include elevation of blood pressure, fluid retention, gastric and kidney dysfunction, and even inhibition of bone and cartilage cells. Ironically, regular NSAID users generally develop osteoarthritis faster not slower. When you prevent or improve osteoarthritis by non-phramaceutical means, you will be improving your health on other fronts including your ability to exercise, improved mood, reduce your risk of cardio-vascular disease and cancer, healthier gums, etc.
Cardio Exercise (30-60 minutes per day)
Arthritic patients may need to divide their cardio into two 20-minute sessions. If you don’t like gyms you may need a cardio setup within your own home. Cardio activities below are listed from easiest to hardest on your joints.
- Pool therapy
- Elliptical/cross trainer
- Power Yoga
- Cycling, stationary bike
- Nordic track
- Brisk walking outdoors (power walking)
- Nordic skiing
- Stair stepper
- Rowing machine
- Downhill skiing (experienced skier)
Full Joint Mobilization
A fundamental principle of joint health is full joint mobilization. By articulating throughout a complete range of motion, cartilage is loaded properly and nourished fully. Inflammation and pain are less likely to occur. Perform gentle flexibility/stretching exercises in a yoga-like manner everyday or twice a day. Tai Chi is also worthwhile. Don’t forget hip mobility, mobilization of your small hand joints and spinal rotation.
Gradual Improvement of your BMI
Reduction by two or more levels on the BMI chart is typically associated with reduced pain, less disability and greater longevity.
If possible, reduce your dependency on prescription drugs that may have side effects such as memory loss, energy loss, fluid retention, heartburn, etc. Until your osteoarthritis improves, it’s okay to use NSAID’s occasionally. Ibuprofen, Aleve and Diclofenac are options.
Real improvement takes time. Remember to play all of your cards right. There are no magic bullets.
Healthy bone is your next line of defense. Arthritic patients with good bone quality experience less pain; some report no pain at all.
High Calcium Foods (3-5 times daily):
- Skim milk
- Non-fat cottage cheese
Vitamin K vegetables daily (3-4 times daily):
Balanced multi-nutrients with bone supplements like:
- or equivalent.
*Maitaining an alkaline diet is essential to bone health. While an acid diet undermines bone health, alkaline nutrition sustains bone.
Osteoarthritis of knee in 60 year-old female patient with healthy bone response (good long-term nutritional choices). Patient reports no pain.
Proper Posture and Flexiblity
A typical squatting position
Restricted motion can lead to joint dysfunction and osteoarthritis. Reduced range of motion in one joint will often affect joints above and below. In the lower extremities, the opposite limb can be adversely affected. The 25 spinal vertebrae depend on healthy postural relationships to neighboring vertebrae above and below.
Postural exercises like Pilates, power walking, and swimming reduce arthritis risk and pain and should be performed daily.
- Walk frequently in a full, upright posture
- Avoid sitting too much
- Continue to squat regularly (if you can)
Increased stress contributes to weight gain, less energy, compromised sleep patterns and lower pain tolerance, which aggravate all osteoarthritis.
Tips to reduce stress include:
- Deep breathing
- Tai Chi
- Aroma Therapy
- Warm Baths
- Relaxation Tapes
- Soothing Music