It first dawned on me that I was getting older when I started waking up with more than the usual aches and pains. It was a subtle realization that arthritis-like symptoms were about to become more than just a nuisance. We have come to accept that a tough day at work or a vigorous workout at the gym can result in a certain amount of discomfort. In the past we were able to eliminate pain and discomfort by icing sore muscles and joints and popping a few pills. Yes, pain and discomfort can be tempered by taking pills, getting cortisone injections or having joint replacement surgery, but that isn’t the whole story. A little stiffness may seem normal but if it becomes necessary to rely on pain killers over a long period of time, it ceases to be normal and can border on dangerous.
Dr. Elizabeth Smoots (www.drsmoots.com) once again reminds us about treating our body well. Her article about preventing or delaying arthritis in the Herald (www.heraldnet.com/living) on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 was quite thought provoking. Arthritis, especially osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) is not a stranger to anyone over 60, and by now you are probably wishing that you had taken better care of yourself when you still had the option. All of the articles that I have read on the subject have said pretty much the same thing. Taking care of your joints isn’t much difference than the advice given for taking care of our other systems. Much of it is common sense and we should have been paying attention.
I have osteoarthritis in my thumbs from repetitive stress (why didn’t I know about that when I was working and allowing this to happen to me?). When osteoarthritis occurs the end result is pain, loss of motion, and sometimes even disability. Unfortunately there is no cure for osteoarthritis but you can study your risk factors (older age, heredity, being a female, obesity, joint injuries and certain diseases) and plan ahead. Of course prevention is the key, but other than hearing about how multiple sports injuries could lead to osteoarthritis I wasn’t paying much attention.
Admit it. You already know that repetitive strain on muscles and joints can’t be good for you. Chronic aches and pains caused by work, hobbies, or recreational activities are not normal. Twinges, aches, swelling, and stabbing pains are symptoms that something is not right. Most of us ignore the signs until we can’t stand it anymore. Hands, hips and knees are prime targets. Repetitive or forceful motions with your hands and squatting, heavy lifting, physical labor or sports injuries can spell trouble. If you see your doctor at the first signs of chronic strain or pain you may be able to head off a disaster. What can be done? The formula is pretty much the same as it is for other health related problems:
Exercise regularly but be mindful and don’t abuse your joints. A sedentary lifestyle increases your odds of developing all sorts of health problems including osteoarthritis. Exercise builds stronger and more flexible joints. Exercises like yoga will also increase muscle tone, flexibility and joint range of motion.
Diet: Being overweight puts you at risk. We have many good foods available to us but poor food choices, stress, alcohol consumption and medications may contribute to poor joint health. Get enough Vitamins C and D.
Hydration: I read that water makes up 70% of the cartilage in joints and plays a major role in lubrication and shock absorbing properties. Wow. I didn’t know that.
We all know about cardiovascular prevention but it is time to think a little bit about joint problem prevention too. Incorporate joint friendly strategies into your lifestyle.