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Prevention and treatment strategies for arthritis

We tend to think of osteoarthritis—and the joint stiffness and pain it brings—as an inevitable part of aging. But you can reduce your risk of developing it, and researchers are making discoveries that could lead to better therapies.

Prevention Plan
While you can’t control some risk factors for arthritis, like aging and injuries, others are in your control. Maintaining a healthy weight is a good first step. Carrying extra pounds not only puts more stress on your joints, but fat tissue actually releases several chemicals that increase inflammation, affecting the joints. Researchers found that one such substance, a hormone called leptin, was associated with increased joint pain.

Your active lifestyle—while it may benefit your overall health—can set you up for arthritis down the road. Researchers have found, for example, that 50 percent of people will develop osteoarthritis 10 to 20 years after a traumatic knee injury, like an ACL or meniscus tear. So minimizing activities that put an excessive load on your joints, like running, is ideal. And if you sit at a desk all day, take breaks every half-hour or so, and walk around.

Getting Relief
If you are diagnosed with osteoarthritis, stretching activities like yoga and tai chi can improve your flexibility and reduce stiffness. Gentle exercise, like bicycling, walking, swimming or rowing, can also help.

For pain relief, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, analgesics, injectibles or topical medications (can be rubbed into the skin). And if a joint is damaged—particularly a hip or knee—your doctor may recommend surgery.

On the Horizon
Although half of people over 65 have osteoarthritis, not everyone gets it. Happily, researchers have identified genes that appear to put some people at greater risk, which may lead to more targeted therapies. 

Researchers are also looking for ways to keep an injured joint from becoming arthritic. One intriguing example: prevent some of the chemical changes that occur following an injury and cause cartilage loss. 

Sources: Arthritis Foundation, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide