3 Ways to Prevent Arthritis
This article was co-authored by
. Luba Lee is a Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner in Tennessee. She received her MSN from the University of Tennessee in 2006.
There are 27 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
With more than 100 different types of arthritis, it’s a relatively common and painful condition. If you are female, or have a family history of arthritis, you are at greater risk. Unfortunately, there’s no exact method to prevent arthritis – but some types of arthritis may be more avoidable than others. Diet, exercise, and healthy lifestyle choices may help reduce your chances of developing this debilitating condition. If you start taking preventative measures in your 30s and 40s, you may be able to at least delay the onset of arthritis.
Warm up before any activity. Warming up
your muscles and cardiovascular system before any exercise can help prevent sprains and strains that may put you at increased risk for arthritis. You should also warm up even before less strenuous activities, such as golf.
- Start your warmup routine by giving yourself a head-to-toe massage. Give special attention to your joints and the muscles around your joints. This can improve circulation and make your warmup easier.
- Just as you warm up before your activity, dedicate 5 to 10 minutes after your activity to cooling down.
- Focus your warmup on the muscles you’ll be using the most, in addition to your whole body. For example, if you’re going for a round of golf, warm up your arms and shoulders first. If you’re going for a run, walk for 5 minutes, then run, then walk for another 5 minutes to cool down.
An active lifestyle significantly decreases your risk of developing arthritis. Aim to participate in some moderate, low-impact activity at least 20 minutes a day.
- If you’re new to exercise, start slow. If your joints are already weak, it may take some time for them to get used to your new activities. When you feel pain, stop. Even if you can only get through 5 minutes of activity before you have to stop, you’re still making progress.
- You don’t necessarily need to join a gym or buy expensive equipment to stay active. Simply going for a walk can improve your cardiovascular and joint health.
- Swimming and cycling are also good low-impact activities that are easier on your joints.
Building the muscles that connect to and support your joints helps reduce the stress on your joints. Simple bodyweight exercises may be enough to start building your strength.
- Gradually add resistance as bodyweight exercises become easier for you to do so you can continue to build strength.
Stretching improves the range of motion in your joints and increases your flexibility. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be incredibly flexible to do yoga – there are many types of yoga, many of which are gentle and don’t require intensive stretching.
- Most yoga poses also have modifications so you can get similar benefits even if you aren’t flexible enough to do the full pose. With regular practice, you may find that you no longer need to modify the pose.
- Avoid forcing yourself into a painful or uncomfortable position. This won’t help you and may even damage your joints, putting you at an increased risk for arthritis.
- Balancing exercises, common in tai chi and yoga, can decrease your risk of falling. Work on these types of exercises particularly if you’re worried about arthritis in your knees.
If you’re doing any exercise with improper form, it can put unnecessary strain on your joints and even lead to injury. If you’re exercising in a gym, get a trainer or experienced gym-goer to check your form and make sure you’re using the equipment correctly.
- Don’t neglect your footwear. Shoes that are inappropriate for the surface or the activity you’re doing can cause increased stress on your ankles, knees, and hips, leading to an increased risk for arthritis.
As you start exercising regularly, the exercises you do will start to get easier. Gradually increasing the time, resistance, or number of repetitions will help you become stronger and more fit. However, if you increase intensity too quickly you may cause injury.
- Follow the 10% rule to ensure you aren’t increasing your intensity too much. For example, if you normally jog for 1 mile (1.6 km) each day and want to increase your distance, your next run should be for 1.1 miles (1.8 km) – not 4 miles (6.4 km).
Particular exercises and athletic activities can put a lot of pressure on your joints, leading to injury. If you want to prevent arthritis, care for minor sprains and strains as soon as you feel pain.
- Old injuries cause weakness in your joints, which can put you at higher risk for developing arthritis later on.
- In most cases, you can treat minor joint injuries using the RICE method: Rest, ice, compression, elevation. If pain or stiffness persists, see a doctor as soon as possible. A doctor or other medical professional can also give you advice on exercises to assist with recovery.
- You can prevent many injuries from happening in the first place by using proper technique and only exercising when you are well-rested and well-hydrated.
Maintaining a Proper Diet
Water is essential for overall health, and also improves the condition of your joints. Adequate hydration lubricates your joints and promotes healthy cartilage, which is 70 to 80 percent water.
- Make it a habit to start each day with a glass of cold water before you do anything else, since most people are dehydrated after a night’s sleep.
- Water can also be essential in reducing inflammation and decreasing pain even after you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis. For example, adequate water can help prevent attacks of gout, a type of arthritis.
Adults should consume about 700mg of
each day. Calcium strengthens your bones. Consuming sufficient calcium helps reduce your risk of arthritis as well as other bone-related conditions such as osteoporosis.
- Dairy products are some of the best sources of calcium. If you’re lactose intolerant, load up on calcium-rich foods such as broccoli, salmon, spinach, almonds, and tofu.
- Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Some beverages, such as milk and orange juice, are often fortified with vitamin D.
Simply making an effort to increase your consumption of bone- and joint-healthy nutrients is a good first step. Actually recording the amounts you’re eating can help you make sure you’re getting enough.
- Write down the foods you’re eating on a daily basis for a couple of weeks. Then review your food journal and see where there is room for improvement.
- Compare the amounts of nutrients you’re getting to the amounts recommended for a healthy diet. If you’re significantly deficient in something, you may want to consider taking a supplement.
If you get little direct sunlight or live in a northern climate, you may need supplements to ensure you’re getting enough of these vitamins. Vitamins C and D support healthy joints and may prevent or delay the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Consult your doctor or other healthcare professional before you start taking nutritional supplements. Some may interfere with other medications you’re taking, and others may cause complications in large amounts.
- Other supplements that may help prevent arthritis include omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin.
Arthritis is an inflammatory condition, so eating foods that reduce inflammation can help minimize or prevent arthritis symptoms.
To reduce inflammation, eat plenty of organic vegetables and fruits, as well as lean meats such as chicken and wild-caught fish.
- If you are already suffering from arthritis symptoms, try eliminating gluten from your diet and see if your symptoms improve.
- Avoid foods that may cause inflammation, such as sugar, refined grains, and processed foods.
While it’s not known whether a plant-based diet can prevent arthritis, studies have shown that a plant-based diet can reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. A plant-based diet also may promote bone and joint function.
- If you’re making the switch to a plant-based diet, make sure you’re consuming sufficient amounts of nutrients, such as iron and calcium, that you normally would get from meat and dairy products. You’ll also want to take a B12 supplement.
Living a Healthy Lifestyle
Extra weight places additional stress on your joints, and over time this leads to an increased risk of arthritis. You can reduce your risk significantly even if you only lose a small amount of weight consistently over time.
- If you’ve changed your diet and are exercising regularly, you’ll likely lose weight without having to commit to a restrictive plan.
- Talk to your doctor about losing weight healthfully if you are significantly overweight. Engaging in strenuous or high-impact activity may cause more stress to your joints and could lead to injury.
Smoking can substantially increase your risk of developing of rheumatoid arthritis, especially among regular smokers who have been smoking for 20 years or more. The exact reason smoking increases the risk of arthritis hasn’t been established, but it’s possible that smoking may weaken your immune system.
- Smokers who’ve already been diagnosed with arthritis may find that their flare-ups are more frequent, more intense, and last longer than those experienced by non-smokers. Quitting smoking can help decrease these symptoms and make the condition less painful to live with.
- If you’re not sure how to quit, talk to your doctor. They can offer practical advice or prescribe medications that may help you quit, if necessary.
Excessive drinking limits your body’s absorption of nutrients and can put you at greater risk for arthritis, as well as bone conditions such as osteoporosis. Alcohol consumption (even in moderation) can also increase symptoms in those already diagnosed with arthritis.
- On the other hand, red wine can help reduce the risk of osteoarthritis. The key is to drink in moderation – no more than 1 glass of wine a day for women, 2 for men. If you aren’t a drinker, the benefit you may get from a decreased risk of arthritis is not sufficient to outweigh other possible risks to your health.
Many work and leisure activities, including typing or playing musical instruments, involve repetitive motion. Over time, repetitive motion can weaken your joints and lead to an increased risk of arthritis.
- When engaging in repetitive activity, make sure you warm up first. For example, if you’re playing guitar, do some warm up exercises first to stretch and warm up your hands, fingers, and wrists.
- Take frequent breaks, and don’t continue the repetitive activity for a long period of time. For example, you might type for 20 minutes and then take a 5-minute break.
What can I do to prevent the worst of what is ahead with arthritis?
Follow the instructions of your doctor, complete any exercises he prescribes and eat a well-balanced diet.
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- If your joints are sore or stiff, apply a warm towel or heat pack for 20 minutes before engaging in activity. After the activity, apply ice if necessary to reduce swelling.
- In the US, the Arthritis Foundation offers exercise programs and other classes to promote joint health. Contact your local chapter for more information.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements can help diminish cartilage deterioration, which may delay the onset of arthritis.
- A bath with epsom salts can help ease joint pain and inflammation.
- If you have joint swelling or stiffness, or joint pain that persists for several days, see a doctor. You may have greater treatment options if you attack the condition early.
- Talk to your doctor before you embark on any new fitness routine or diet. Your doctor will let you know if you’re not well enough for the activity you want to do, or may suggest modifications.
To prevent arthritis, make sure you’re getting enough calcium in your diet, about 700 milligrams a day for adults, since it will strengthen your bones and reduce your risk of arthritis. You should also drink 8 to 10 glasses of water every day to keep your joints healthy. Along with maintaining a healthy diet, do moderate, low-impact exercise like walking or swimming at least 20 minutes a day, 5 times a week. Additionally, you may want to ask your doctor about taking vitamin C and D supplements to support your joints. For more help from our Medical co-author, including how to limit your drinking to lower your risk of arthritis, scroll down!
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This article was co-authored by Luba Lee, FNP-BC. Luba Lee is a Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner in Tennessee. She received her MSN from the University of Tennessee in 2006.
In other languages:
Italiano: Prevenire l’Artrite, Español: prevenir la artritis, Português: Evitar a Artrite, Deutsch: Arthritis vorbeugen, 中文: 预防关节炎, Français: prévenir l’arthrite, Русский: предотвратить развитие артрита, Nederlands: Artritis voorkomen, Čeština: Jak se vyhnout artritidě
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