Your joints need preventive health, too
Although joint pain is an all-too-common result of the aging process and everyday wear-and-tear, it doesn’t have to be inevitable. Better Health examines the important preventive steps that can keep joints and bones
in good health and free from pain year after year.
To mark the recent World Arthritis Day, Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health released new statistics showing a surprisingly high number of people in Thailand – seven million! – suffer from osteoarthritis or osteoporosis. The majority of sufferers were age 40 and older, and the number of cases continues to grow along with the country’s aging population.
Osteoarthritis is a serious condition that leads to the gradual degeneration of cartilage, the flexible tissue that acts as a joint cushion to prevent bones from rubbing against each other. Healthy cartilage keeps joints flexible so we can move easily and shift our bodies from one position to another, whether we’re sitting, standing or walking.
When cartilage degeneration occurs, joints lose flexibility as bones rub against other bones. Patients can suffer chronic pain, inflammation and reduced mobility to the point where normal daily activities and quality of life are seriously affected.
According to Dr. Sithiporn Orapin, an experienced orthopedic surgeon, the following four preventive measures can significantly lower a person's risk of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders, keeping joint pain away while also boosting overall health.
Obesity is a leading cause of osteoarthritis, as excess body weight places a heavy burden on the weight-bearing joints of the knees, hips and back. Maintaining a healthy body weight with regular exercise and good nutrition habits helps protect joints.
Aerobic exercise burns excess calories and boosts metabolism. Low-impact exercises such as swimming, water aerobics, walking and cycling are among the best exercises for controlling weight and preventing injury (though cycling may not be appropriate for patients with back pain).
Good posture is also important for promoting joint health. “Even people with smaller body structures can still be at risk for osteoarthritis if they have poor posture,” Dr. Sithiporn notes. “For example, knee joints can be damaged when you sit on your heels, or after repeatedly standing up and then sitting down, or from the heavy stress on the knees that occurs when walking up and down stairs. Leaning or slouching toward one side while standing puts too much stress on one hip. A healthier standing position is to keep your weight balanced equally on both sides.”
Poor sitting posture can damage healthy joints. Straining your neck and head forward while using a computer for long periods can harm the joints in the neck and lower back. It’s healthier to sit with your back leaning against the back of the chair and avoid bending your neck for long periods. Shift your sitting position frequently and take periodic walks or stretching breaks to alleviate joint stress.
3. Stronger muscles
Exercise is beneficial in so many ways. But exercising too much, or exercising the wrong way, can damage bone cartilage and lead to painful joint problems. Building stronger muscles helps guard against osteoarthritis caused by frequent exercise. As the body moves, muscles act like shock absorbers for the joints. Building stronger abdominal and back muscles is especially effective for protecting the back’s intervertebral discs, which are more prone to degeneration.
It’s always a smart idea to consult your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
4.Supplements & medication
Some medical professionals recommend their osteoarthritis patients take two supplements, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, to promote the healthy delivery of synovial fluid to joints and bone cartilage. However, the supplements have yet to be proven fully effective; they are prescribed primarily in the early stages of osteoarthritis.
Certain medications should be avoided due to possible side effects that can damage healthy joints and bones. “Periodic steroid injections prescribed for an extended period to reduce joint inflammation have the potential to damage joints,” Dr. Sithiporn cautions. “Oral steroids don’t cause direct harm to the joints, but they are known to have potential side effects that can impact bone health and cause bone loss.”
Osteoarthritis is the most prevalent type of arthritis. While there are a number of safe, effective treatments, osteoarthritis remains incurable – a patient’s health cannot be fully restored to its pre-osteoarthritis condition. That’s a strong incentive to take the necessary steps now to promote optimal joint health and a good quality of life for years to come.
The initial onset of osteoarthritis symptoms can quickly impact a patient’s normal daily routine and overall quality of life. Patients who believe they may have osteoarthritis symptoms should consult their doctor. There are a number of diagnostic procedures available for identifying the nature and severity of the condition and determining the best treatment strategy.
According to Dr. Sithiporn,physicians typically begin the diagnostic process by reviewing the patient’s medical history and symptom profile such as the timing and severity of pain. While joint pain occurs more often in the morning, pain from osteoarthritis
occurs when a patient uses the affected joints.
“Doctors assess bone joints by looking, feeling, tapping and listening,” Dr. Sithiporn explains. “He or she can detect inflammation if joints are stiff. Inflamed joints are hotter than healthy joints, and the temperature difference is easy to detect without complicated tests or X-ray imaging.”
Treating mild cases
For mild cases of osteoarthritis, doctors usually recommend patients cut back on some daily activities, get plenty of sleep, take greater care when moving joints, and follow the doctor’s instructions for taking medications and supplements and when applying “hot packs.”
Pain relievers like paracetamol and supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin may be prescribed for mild cases. If results aren’t satisfactory, your doctor may prescribe a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen. However, they should not be taken for prolonged periods due to potential side effects including peptic ulcers and kidney problems.
Treating severe cases
Treating severe cases of osteoarthritis may require surgery. There are a number of surgical options, including:
- Arthroscopy: Sometimes called orthopedic endoscopy,
this is a minimally-invasive surgical procedure that uses a tiny camera to provide an up-close look at damaged joints and surrounding areas. Arthroscopy yields equally successful outcomes as traditional invasive surgery, but with less trauma, and, in some cases, the surgeon can correct the problem right away by removing damaged cartilage or repairing bone fractures inside joints.
- Bone fusion: This procedure involves fusing two bones
together to prevent them from rubbing against each other. It’s generally used for smaller joints that aren’t critical to the weight-bearing function.
- Osteotomy: This surgical procedure corrects improperly
aligned bones and joints. In the case of “bow legs,” the osteotomy procedure can alleviate pain and wear-and-tear that results from the inner area of the knees bearing too much body weight. A high tibial osteotomy may be recommended when the legs require straightening to correct an uneven distribution of body weight between the knee’s inner and outer areas. This procedure can alleviate knee pain while delaying the need for a total surgical knee replacement.
- Artificial joint replacement: Surgery to replace a damaged joint with an artificial one is typically recommended only after joints have become completely worn or cannot be repaired any other way.