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August 1, 2011

Joint Health Monday

Arthritis is the biggest cause of disability in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, approximately 22 percent of American adults have self-reported doctor-diagnosed arthritis, and 9 percent are limited in certain activities because of arthritis. What is worse is that these numbers have been increasing over the past few decades, one outcome of the aging population.

Arthritis encompasses over 100 diseases and conditions that affect the joints, tissues around the joints, and other connective tissue. Osteoarthritis is the most common form, accounting for over 63 percent of arthritis cases. This form of arthritis generally is thought to occur as a result of “wear and tear” on joints, causing pain and stiffness and often leading to reduced mobility and function. The knees, hips, hands, and spine are the most common areas in the body for osteoarthritis to occur; and most cases arise after age 40. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, ankylosing spondylitis, gout, fibromyalgia and juvenile inflammatory arthritis are some of the other less common forms of arthritis.

Most forms of arthritis are generally considered to be chronic in nature. Being older, female, and having a genetic predisposition (particularly for inflammatory types of arthritis) are all risk factors for arthritis that cannot be changed. However, there are several ways you may be able to help prevent or delay the onset of arthritis, or manage symptoms more effectively.

Having a healthy weight is one way to lower your risk for arthritis. Overweight and obese individuals are more likely to have knee osteoarthritis due to carrying excess weight. Even losing 11 pounds may lower your risk for developing knee osteoarthritis or reduce symptoms in people who already have the condition.

Avoiding joint injuries and overuse may prevent the onset of osteoarthritis in vulnerable joints, as earlier joint damage is a main cause of some forms of osteoarthritis.  Those working in occupations that require knee bending, squatting, repetitive motion, heavy lifting, and hard labor (e.g. construction/mechanics, agriculture, engineering, cleaning, small business/retail) should take special precautions whenever possible to prevent joint damage.

Regular physical activity (i.e., 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on 5 or more days of the week) may also keep joints healthy and reduce symptoms of arthritis. Not only has research shown that physical activity can help relieve pain and stiffness due to arthritis, but it can also give you more energy and improve mood.

Eating a nutritious diet (full of fruits and vegetables; whole grains, beans, nuts/seeds, cold-water fish, lean meat; and low-fat dairy/dairy alternatives) will help you reach and maintain a healthy weight. Diet is also a key factor in the management of gout, as foods high in purines (e.g. organ meats like kidney; fish like mackerel, herring, sardines and mussels; and yeast), alcohol, and sugary beverages should be limited in persons with gout. A review of recent studies testing the effects of diet on rheumatoid arthritis found that omega-3 fatty acids may have some beneficial effects for people with inflammatory forms of arthritis.

Many websites and groups provide information, advice, and support for dealing with arthritis including the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. Early diagnosis and management of arthritis can be very important, especially with inflammatory types of arthritis. If you think you may have arthritis, be sure to talk to your doctor about the symptoms you are experiencing. Rheumatologists are physicians who specialize in the treatment of arthritis and other musculoskeletal disorders.

For more information about arthritis, visit http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis or http://www.hopkins-arthritis.org. To learn more about being physically active with arthritis, go to http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/interventions/physical_activity.htm. To read about the relationship between diet and gout, see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20035225.

Every Monday, the Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Project, part of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, offers tips for preventing disease and injury, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Check back each week for new tips or visit our archive.