Stiffening up as we get older is seen as an almost inevitable process, and arthritis is a joint condition that is synonymous with wear and tear. But when we look at the events that lead to arthritis, there is hope that this disease can be slowed or even prevented.
Firstly, it is important to clarify that I am referring to only osteoarthritis in this article. Osteoarthritis is characterised by progressive aching and stiffness that can affect any joint. This is as opposed to rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis etc.
The onset of osteoarthritis is relatively slow, and to some extent represents a deterioration in joint condition. With this in mind, once you have osteoarthritis you are very, very unlikely to resolve it (although animal studies indicate there may be light at the end of the tunnel).
However, like any other degenerative condition, lifestyle changes can alter the onset and progression of osteoarthritis.
Research on this topic tells us that having an increased muscle mass is related to lower likelihood of osteoarthritic changes, so the first thing anybody should do is take exercise. Cycling is one of the best exercises to build muscle around the knee, for example.
Those people who have the highest muscle mass are not only less likely to have arthritis, but are less likely to have symptoms from any arthritis they do have. As such, increasing muscle mass is not only a preventative strategy, but also a useful way of relieving the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
A useful side-effect of exercise is a lowering of bodyweight, and overall weight loss is tremendously important in terms of improving joint health. This is particularly important with reference to knee and hip arthritis, as load through these joints is directly proportionate to body weight.
There are other benefits of exercising when it comes to arthritis. These can be summed up as an increase in joint stability, helping to decrease the wobbles and jolts that cause joint wear, and an increase in flexibility. Being flexible allows you to take a joint through its full range of movement which allows nutrients to get flushed throughout the joint, encouraging repair of day to day damage.
Certain supplements may also help maintain healthy joints, although research is slightly limited. Potentially helpful substances include Glucosamine and Chondroitin, Omega-3, Green Lipped Mussel Extract and Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). If you are taking any long term medications, particularly anti-coagulants, seek medical advice prior to taking any of these supplements.
Improvements in neuromuscular control are also a key to successfully preventing onset of osteoarthritis, and for this balance exercises and chiropractic treatment have been shown to be very helpful. This allows muscles to lessen the twists and jolts that joints experience during normal daily life.
Further, manual therapy such as that offered by chiropractors can dramatically help with the symptoms of osteoarthritis by improving joint mobility and addressing associated muscle imbalances.
The list of things that can be done to help prevent and lessen the impact of osteoarthritis is enormous, but crucially the earlier the right habits are started, the more effect they have.