Although this form of arthritis can interfere with daily tasks and activities, it can have other adverse effects: a 2019 study published in the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage found that knee and hip osteoarthritis were associated at an increased risk of dying from heart disease. sickness.
“Osteoarthritis can lead to increased sedentary behavior and therefore increase the risk of other chronic problems, such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease due to reduced activity”, says Eric K. Holder, assistant professor of clinical orthopedics and rehabilitation at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. Osteoarthritis can also increase inflammation in the body, itself linked to heart disease. And a 2020 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that the disease can lead to social isolation, which can also be harmful to health.
Osteoarthritis affects 32.5 million American adults
Good news: Although many medications used for pain relief are not recommended for regular use by older adults, a number of lifestyle and other non-drug treatments can help relieve symptoms and prevent the progression of osteoarthritis, says Heidi Prather, physiatrist. at the New York Special Surgery Hospital. Here’s what the experts advise.
Reducing stress and getting a better night’s sleep may not seem to help with osteoarthritis. But some evidence suggests they can. A study published in the journal PLOS One in 2020, for example, found that people aged 50 and over who slept six hours or less per night were 20% more likely to be diagnosed with osteoarthritis than those who slept between seven. and eight o’clock. They were also about 30% more likely to experience significant joint pain.
“Sleep is crucial for the perception of pain,” explains Prather. Insufficient nap time can lower levels of neurotransmitters — feel-good brain chemicals that can help dull pain, she explains. Stress, meanwhile, can make sleep worse, altering how we perceive pain.
Meditation for people who think they can’t meditate
To solve both of these problems, you can try a mindfulness technique such as meditation. A small study published in the journal Alternative and Complementary Therapies, for example, found that women with knee osteoarthritis who meditated for 15 to 20 minutes twice a day for eight weeks reported significant improvements in pain and quality of life, as well as better knee function.
It is also important to address mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. A 2019 study published in the journal Pain found that people who reported symptoms of anxiety were 70% more likely to report knee pain over the next year. “There may be an association between these emotions and inflammation,” says Prather. Talk to your doctor about therapies that may help you.
If you are overweight, losing as little as five to 10 pounds can help with pain relief and mobility. And a 2021 study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that overweight and obese people who lost more than 7.5% of their body weight were less likely to need total knee replacement surgery compared to compared to those who did not lose weight or who gained weight. .
Weight loss can also reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes or, if you already have it, help you control it. “We know that uncontrolled diabetes triggers inflammation that makes osteoarthritis worse,” says Eliana Cardozo, a sports medicine physician at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
Losing weight could help protect your knees from arthritis
Benefits of a plant-based diet
A 2018 study published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that people who followed a plant-based diet for eight weeks reported significant improvements in musculoskeletal pain, even though they did not lose weight. “A whole, nutrient-dense diet low in processed foods and sugar is essential because it helps reduce inflammation that contributes to pain,” Holder says.
A good option: a Mediterranean-style diet, rich in produce, whole grains, seafood, beans and nuts. A diet high in sugar can negatively affect the gut microbiome, according to a study published in the journal PLOS One in 2021. And “your gut makes most of your body’s serotonin, a brain chemical that boosts mood and allows you to tolerate pain better,” says Prather.
The Best Foods to Feed Your Gut Microbiome
Exercise the right way
“In my opinion, exercise — including physical therapy — is the single most important nonsurgical treatment for osteoarthritis,” says orthopedic surgeon Timothy Gibson, medical director of MemorialCare Joint Replacement Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain. Valley, California. “Not only does it strengthen the surrounding muscles, to relieve pressure on the joints, but it improves overall function and provides a mental advantage, which can make it easier to manage pain.
In terms of exercise, the most helpful for osteoarthritis is a combination of aerobics, strength training and flexibility exercises, says Elaine Husni, vice president of rheumatic and immunological diseases at the Cleveland Clinic. But it’s important to tailor the workouts to your fitness level. “If a patient has been sedentary, I start them with water-based therapy, like pool aerobics,” she says. “And once they tolerate that, they move on to low-impact, land-based therapy, like walking or bicycling.”
Husni also recommends tai chi. A 2021 study published in the journal BMC Geriatrics found that older people with knee osteoarthritis who engaged in this gentle activity twice a week for 12 weeks had significantly better results on actions such as standing on a leg than those that did not. Another great option is chair yoga. “It’s especially good if you’ve been sedentary, as it takes away the fear of falling and doesn’t require as much basic balance,” says Husni.
If it hurts too much to exercise, ask your doctor if physical therapy might be warranted. A physical therapist can teach you how to strengthen the muscles around your joints with little or no pain, as well as techniques to make daily activities easier, such as walking up and down stairs.
For osteoarthritis flare-ups, you can apply an over-the-counter topical to a painful joint. These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Voltaren and products containing capsaicin, such as Zostrix.
For more relief, you may be able to use over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (Motrin IB, generic) for a short time if you have well-controlled blood pressure and healthy liver and kidneys, says Husni. Ask your doctor. Otherwise, acetaminophen (Tylenol, generic) may be best.
There are also injectables: steroids, hyaluronic acid, and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) — an experimental treatment that uses the patient’s own platelets.
The joint-like substance hyaluronic acid may work for some people, but American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons guidelines do not recommend it for routine use in osteoarthritis. PRP has shown promise for tendon, muscle and ligament injuries in young people, but not for moderate to severe osteoarthritis, Husni says.
“For some people, a certain injection can relieve their pain for a while,” says Cardozo, who also advises an individualized approach based on factors such as degree of arthritis.
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