Osteoarthritis, one of the most common afflictions of the golden years, is predicted to reach an epidemic level within two decades as the baby boomer generation enters the prime arthritis years. Health officials envision that the current estimate of 21 million of the Southeast Asian population with the chronic condition will soar to more than 30 million in the years to come.
Osteoarthritis involves the deterioration of joint cartilage, the rubbery tissue at the ends of bones that allows for smooth movement and shock absorption. When cartilage erodes, due to a variety of factors, the frequent result is pain, loss of motion and, in many cases, even disability and dependence on others. Moreover, when individuals have to rely on painkillers, they often put themselves at risk for developing serious side effects and additional health problems.
The bad news is we all develop some degree of cartilage degeneration in our joints — most commonly in the hands, feet, spine, knees and hips — as we get up in years. But do not panic just yet. The good news is that not everybody develops symptoms. Furthermore, there are many practical ways to reduce the risks that lead to the wear and tear of cartilage associated with osteoarthritis. Even if you already have the condition, there are solid natural options for minimising symptoms and slowing progression. You may not need to pop painkillers at all, or perhaps only minimally, by applying some of these options.
Option 1: Reduce Repetitive Strain on Muscle and Joints
Be alert for any chronic aches and strains caused by work, hobbies or recreation-related activities. For instance, squatting, heavy physical labour, occupational knee bending and a history of regular sports participation that can cause abnormal wear and tear of the knee joints are risk factors for knee arthritis. Do not ignore the signs and wait for them to worsen, if you suspect that your job causes symptoms, you may need to rotate your task, modify your office chair or workstation or even find an alternative activity. Repetitive strain can create microtrauma to joints and adjacent soft tissue, and lead to osteoarthritis in later years.
Additionally, take good care of your hands. Repetitive or forceful motions performed with the hands can contribute to osteoarthritis. Even long hours at the computer can strain and perhaps prematurely age your hands. Your joints could be affected over the long term unless you take some preventive action, such as routinely massaging your hands and forearms to promote blood flow and waste removal.
See a qualified health professional, such as an orthopaedist, chiropractor or podiatrist, to determine if you have any structural risks for osteoarthritis. At the very first sign of chronic strain or pain, see a physician.
Option 2: Practice Yoga for Flexible Joints
A few simple yoga postures taking less than five minutes a day can increase muscle tone as well as the flexibility and range of motion of joints. Research indicated that yoga generates beneficial mechanical pressure on joints. In addition, yoga can help to relax both the body and minds, thereby reducing overall stress levels, which may be a factor in osteoarthritis pain. If you already have arthritis, seek out a yoga therapist or a yoga teacher specially trained in dealing with medical conditions.
Option 3: Feed Your Joints
Improving the diet is always a tough challenge in our time-strapped society. The more you can maximise your intake of whole foods and minimise refined, packaged foods, however, the better off you and your joints will be. People who eat a diet loaded in processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sugar are depleting their body of many of the basic nutrients needed for joint repair and healing functions. Such a diet throws the hormonal system out of balance as well. Among other things, it causes the release of stress hormones, which results in more pain being felt. A poor diet is a pretty sure ticket to accelerated deterioration and pain.
In addition, if you are too heavy, you are at greater risk for osteoarthritis, particularly the weight-bearing joints. Losing weight cuts the risk. A group of researchers from Boston University found that women who lost as little as 5 kilograms could slash in half their risk of developing knee arthritis.
Option 4: Exercise Your Joints
Regular exercise is essential but remember not to abuse your joints. A sedentary lifestyle produces weak muscles and is believed to increase the odds of developing arthritis and other health problems as well. Exercise makes you — and your joints — stronger and more flexible. Exercise does not have to be strenuous, just a regular routine with moderate intensity will suffice.
Option 5: Water Your Joints
Drink plenty of water every day. Water makes up 70% of cartilage tissue and is a critical commodity for the lubrication and shock-absorbing properties of joints. Dehydration may be a major underlying and unrecognised factor in joint degeneration and pain. Do not substitute sodas, coffee and tea for water. These beverages contain ingredients that may block the absorption of water or act like diuretics, promoting excretion of fluids from the body. Chugging down an ample amount of water daily is not only beneficial for your joints, but it is also a sure way to attain supple and healthy skin.