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Is there a way to prevent arthritis?

There are a great many types of arthritis, but the most common is osteoarthritis, usually associated with age. Other types of arthritis, known as inflammatory arthritis, include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, gout, and lupus. Unfortunately, you don’t have the power to completely prevent any of them. Lifestyle changes and precautions may, however, delay the onset of osteoarthritis, and various treatments may alleviate arthritic pain and stiffness resulting from any of the various forms of the disease.

The Nature and Causes of Various Types of Arthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that worsens over time, potentially leading to pain, stiffness, loss of range of motion, and sometimes permanent disability. It occurs due to wear and tear on your  joints over your lifetime which causes the cartilage meant to protect the ends of your bones to erode.

Though present in some degree in all individuals over the age of 60, there is a broad range of severity of symptoms. People who have suffered a musculoskeletal injury may develop arthritis at a young age as a result. Women are at greater risk of developing the disease, especially after menopause, as are individuals with a family history of relatives developing the illness in their thirties or forties.

Inflammatory arthritis, whether rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, or one of the other types mentioned earlier, are autoimmune disorders in which the immune system misidentifies the patient’s own tissues as harmful invaders and attacks them. This misfiring of the immune system results in pronounced inflammation, especially around the joints.

Postponing Osteoarthritis as Long as Possible

According to the Arthritis Foundation, no matter what your family history, there are a number of steps you can take to delay the onset of osteoarthritis, including:

  • Keeping your weight at a healthy level since obesity puts great stress on your weight-bearing joints
  • Eating a healthy diet rich in calcium, low in fat and sugar, and containing fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. salmon, trout, mackerel, and sardines) on a regular basis
  • Making sure you get enough vitamin D
  • Not drinking alcohol to excess
  • Keeping your blood sugar under control since high levels of glucose in the blood cause cartilage to stiffen and, if you become diabetic, the illness will result in inflammation and further loss of cartilage
  • Keeping physically active -- at least 30 minutes 5 times a week -- to strengthen your muscles and keep your joints limber
  • Preventing injuries that may precipitate arthritis by wearing supportive shoes and protective sports gear, lifting heavy objects carefully, wearing your seatbelt, etc.
  • Reducing stress wherever possible since stress is known both to increase inflammation and to increase sensitivity to pain

Mitigating the Symptoms of Inflammatory Arthritis

Interestingly, many of the same factors that may keep osteoarthritis at bay are also helpful in preventing flare-ups of inflammatory arthritis. Arthritic symptoms, whatever their underlying cause, seem to be mitigated by watching your intake of fats and sugar, exercising, eating fish high in omega-3s regularly, and limiting your intake of alcohol.

Also, while smoking is bad for everyone, one study shows that men with knee osteoarthritis experience more pain than those who do not smoke, and smoking is linked not only to developing rheumatoid arthritis, but to developing severe cases of the condition.

Rehabilitation Medicine Can Make a Big Difference for Patients with Arthritis

Although some medications, in addition to painkillers, can be helpful in treating arthritis, (particularly the inflammatory types of the disorder), there are many traditional and complementary medical treatments that can make arthritis symptoms more bearable.

Physiatrists, doctors who specialize in rehabilitation medicine, offer a wide range of treatment options for arthritis pain, stiffness, and restricted mobility. Don’t give in to the arthritis symptoms that will only worsen if you become less and less active because of the pain.

Instead, why not confront your demons and fight to keep your zest for life and your independence. Consulting with a competent professional in the field of rehabilitation medicine will renew your confidence in your own ability to rebound by offering you a variety of options, including:

  • Customized physical therapy to strengthen your muscles, increase your range of motion, and lubricate your joints with your own synovial fluid
  • Orthotic devices to correct body alignment and provide support for weak areas
  • Ultrasound-guided corticosteroid/analgesic injections to relieve pain and inflammation
  • Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy to accelerate healing
  • Knee injections of hyaluronic acid to lubricate the knee joint
  • Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF) to increase circulation, reduce inflammation, improve sleep quality, and improve muscle and immune function

Don’t Let Arthritis Get the Upper Hand -- Find a Doctor Who Will Help You Fight

Don’t allow yourself  to be victimized by arthritis. Though you may not be able to prevent the condition,  you can certainly fight its ravages. Finding the right physiatrist can be a life-changing discovery. You will no doubt feel empowered the minute you begin your initial consultation. Discussing the many pathways to relief and rejuvenation will be the first step in restoring your self-confidence and restarting your life.

About The Author: Jason Lipetz, MD 

Prior to founding Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, Dr. Lipetz served as the Director of the Center for Spine Rehabilitation for the North Shore Long Island Jewish healthcare system from 1999-2006. Dr. Lipetz received his specialized and interventional spine medicine training during a fellowship year at the internationally recognized Penn Spine Center of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. After receiving his medical degree with Alpha Omega Alpha honors from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr. Lipetz completed his residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the prestigious Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.