Fortunately, taking a few precautions can reduce your risk of developing osteoarthritis in the first place or prevent osteoarthritis from getting worse if you already have it. While none of these methods is guaranteed to work, they are nonetheless good for your overall health.
Losing weight could be your best strategy to prevent osteoarthritis in your weight-bearing joints. A team of Johns Hopkins rheumatologists found a significant association between body mass index (BMI)—the best indicator of overweight—and significant knee, hip and back pain. Other research has shown that excess weight is associated with the development and the progression of knee osteoarthritis.
Fortunately, it does not take very much weight loss to decrease your risk. Studies show that overweight or obese women who lose as few as 11 pounds cut their risk of knee osteoarthritis in half.
Mild to moderate exercise will not damage your joints. In fact, a careful, regular exercise program can lower the risk of osteoarthritis by strengthening the muscles that support weight-bearing joints.
Exercise will also help with weight loss, which further reduces your risk of joint damage. To help ensure that your exercise program is not doing more harm than good, ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist or fitness trainer who has worked with people with arthritis.
What about vigorous exercise and sports activities? Studies show that even distance runners don’t have an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis. However, the risk is increased in athletes who sustain joint injuries, especially in collision sports like football. If you do suffer a joint injury, proper bracing, physical therapy and, if necessary, surgical repair can reduce your risk of developing osteoarthritis.
The best way to minimize the risk of secondary osteoarthritis is to prevent joint injuries. If your daily activities require frequent kneeling, squatting or repetitive hand motions (at a computer keyboard, for example), you may want to ask your doctor about braces or other supportive devices to protect your joints.