Medically reviewed on February 14, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints that can sometimes get in the way of many of the daily physical activities we enjoy the most.
It’s also a disease that affects nearly 27 million people in the United States .
In this article, we’ll consider the risks and symptoms of osteoarthritis, along with how to prevent arthritis and/or lessen the severity of the inflammation in the body.
With arthritis being so prevalent among older adults, you may be wondering how it can be prevented. Like the rest of our bodies, the joints age right along with us. While you may not be able to stop aging, there are things that you can do to help the joints better endure the test of time.
Improving joint health can be accomplished, for example, with the right exercise, weight management, and nutrition.
How? Let’s take a closer look at that now.
Since joints can become damaged over time, increased activity might seem a bit counterintuitive when it comes to preserving further wear and tear. Certain exercises, however, can help to reduce joint pain and stiffness, increase motion, strengthen muscles, and improve endurance.
Consider consulting with your healthcare provider to tailor an exercise routine that’s best for you.
Some typical exercises might include the following:
By increasing the flexibility, stability, and range of motion of the joints, you reduce factors that can contribute to the development and/or progression of diseases like osteoarthritis.
While it’s important to regularly exercise the joints, you’ll want to start slowly with any new exercise routine. You can increase the intensity and amount over time, being careful not to cause injury to the joints—especially the knees.
Taking care of the knees can go a long way in preventing or reducing osteoarthritis.
Severe knee injuries such as a torn meniscus, or an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), can result in an increased risk of the development of osteoarthritis. One study showed that 95% of patients with moderate to severe knee osteoarthritis had evidence of damage to the meniscus .
Proper alignment of the knee joints can also have a significant impact on health. Studies have shown that individuals with either inward or outward displacement of the knee may be at a higher risk for the development of osteoarthritis .
There are many factors that may contribute to knee alignment, including genetic factors. You should consult your healthcare provider to determine if your knees are properly aligned and if alignment can be improved with exercises.
Preventing osteoarthritis or reducing its severity is often linked to reducing stress on the joints .
If you’re overweight, you may be placing unnecessary stress on the joints. Overloading the knees and hips is not just hard on the bones but also on the soft tissues that support those joints.
The knees and hips often bear weight while going through a wide range of motion. So, by reducing the amount of weight that these joints must bear, you also reduce the strain put on them, limiting the likelihood of injury.
Instead of focusing solely on weight loss, consider finding a healthy combination of weight loss and exercise. This could help to limit arthritic pain and improve overall function in overweight adults.
Nutrition is a top area of interest for health professionals who are researching osteoarthritis. Although some study results have been conflicting, others provide strong evidence for dietary factors that may help to reduce osteoarthritis.
Studies have shown that vitamin C and vitamin D provide benefits for joint health and reduce both the risk and progression of osteoarthritis .
Studies have also shown that increased intake of micronutrients high in antioxidants— especially vitamin C — can benefit joint health. People with high vitamin C intake, for example, were less likely to develop knee pain. Vitamin C may also reduce the risk of cartilage loss in people with osteoarthritis.
It should be noted that sufficient vitamin C intake may not be able to prevent osteoarthritis entirely, but it could be beneficial when it comes to slowing down the progression of the disease.
Some vitamin C-rich foods include :
Vitamin D is extremely important to bone health. Insufficient levels may result in bones becoming thin, brittle, or incorrectly shaped. In one study, low vitamin D levels showed a 300% increase in the risk of progressive osteoarthritis in the knee. Another study indicated that women with low vitamin D levels were three times more likely to develop narrowing of the space in their hip joints.
Vitamin D is produced in living organisms (including humans) with exposure to UVB light—usually from the sun. UVB rays don’t penetrate glass, so indoor sunlight will not allow for the absorption of vitamin D. Of course, too much exposure to sunlight can be harmful to the skin, so vitamin D intake usually has to be supplemented in some way through diet.
Only a few foods contain significant amounts of vitamin D. The best food sources of vitamin D include:
Variable amounts of vitamin D2 can be found in mushrooms. Some market-available mushrooms are treated with UV light to increase the level of vitamin D2 in them. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved UV-treated mushroom powder as a food additive to supplement vitamin D2 .
Despite the best preventative efforts, it can sometimes be difficult to avoid developing arthritis, especially if it tends to run in your family.
Almost every older adult will tell you of aches and pains that have increased with age, but how can you know if you’re dealing with arthritis or normal wear and tear? Arthritis symptoms can often start slowly, occurring in just one or two joints.
Here’s what you can be on the lookout for if you suspect you may be at risk:
In short, if you find yourself favoring joints—such as the knees, elbows, hands, or certain fingers—because of pain or limited ability, it could be an early sign of arthritis.
Although young people can develop osteoarthritis—typically from injury or genetic causes—osteoarthritis is most common in people over 50. Among adults over 50, women are more likely than men to develop osteoarthritis.
Women over 50 are most likely to have osteoarthritis. The likelihood increases with age, with women outnumbering men about 2-to-1 between ages 70–79 .
In addition to being more likely than men to develop osteoarthritis, women usually experience more severe arthritic symptoms. An increased onset of osteoarthritis in women around the time of menopause suggests that hormones may contribute to the development of osteoarthritis.
By taking our Vitamin D & Inflammation Test, you’ll be able to get an easy read on both your levels for vitamin D and for hs-CRP, which may help you to better understand the inflammation or discomfort in the body.
Possible causes of inflammation—and related health conditions
What Causes Joint Pain and Stiffness?
6 possible signs of inflammation in the body
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6. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements - Vitamin C. Published March 26, 2021. URL. Accessed February 14, 2022.
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