Originally published 03/19/2015. Updated 10/07/2021.
Osteoarthritis (OA) has become a very large burden on our healthcare system. The prevalence of OA has dramatically increased over the past 50 years. There are many reasons for this increase, a few of the most common and important include:
- The prevalence of obesity in our society
- The increase in individuals being more active later in life
- Technological advances leading to more sedentary occupations.
These are only a few reasons for this increase. If these issues are not addressed, Osteoarthritis will continue to be a burden on our society and medical system. What can we do about this?
An easy place to start is by taking care of ourselves with the following steps:
1. Understanding Osteoarthritis: OA is a chronic, inflammatory process of a joint that leads to a progressive loss of cartilage, decreased joint space and decreased joint congruency. As the joint continues to be stressed, calcification and/or osteophytes may form, further progressing the process.
There are two types of OA: primary and secondary.
Primary OA develops due to repetitive use and wear and tear on a joint. Reasons for primary OA may include a repetitive occupation or lack of a variety in activities or exercise. This leads to overuse and eventual breakdown of the overstressed joint.
Secondary OA occurs due to other reasons causing increased stress on a joint such as: obesity, previous injury, structural deformities, inactivity/sedentary lifestyle, dysfunctional posture or movement, or chronic inflammation or other diseases. Many of these reasons are the risk factors that predispose us to developing OA. Some of these risk factors we can address and some we cannot. The most modifiable risk factors include obesity, sedentary lifestyle and dysfunctional posture or movement. Exercise addresses each of these and therefore is one of the most important and most effective ways to prevent OA.
2. How should we exercise to prevent OA? There is no specific answer to this question; the only appropriate answer is it depends on the individual. We all have different stresses to our individual systems affected by our occupations, hobbies, previous injuries, habits, genetics, stress level, etc. All of these different stresses affect our bodies in many ways, and each of our bodies responds differently. For that reason, it is important that we know our own self.
Here is a list of important things you should know about yourself:
- What do you enjoy?
- How can you be consistent in your exercise program?
- What is your medical history (previous injuries, illnesses, etc.)?
- What are your physical dysfunctions? Very few of us move perfectly, know how your movement is limited. If you don’t know, have yourself evaluated by a movement specialist; a physical therapist, or a personal trainer.
- What are your limitations or precautions? Many previous issues may create limits on what our system may be capable of. Know your limits and follow them.
All of these factors can play an important role in developing an effective exercise program. Exercising just to exercise is better than nothing. However, if you take the time to analyze yourself, set some goals, and exercise with a purpose, your program will be much more effective and efficient. You may also be able to avoid spending excessive time or having negative effects.
3. Once you have evaluated yourself, develop your program. There is no one specific fitness program that is the best for everyone. The best fitness program is the one that makes “YOU” feel better, move better, and provides you a consistent and active lifestyle enabling you to do the things you want and need to do.
In order to determine what is YOUR best fitness program here are some suggestions:
- Establish some goals to keep you motivated and compliant.
- Know your dysfunctions (mobility limitations or weaknesses) and address them. If you don’t know how to find these, find someone who does (a good physical therapist or personal trainer would be a good place to start).
- Address both strength and cardiovascular exercise.
- Use variety within your program. Variety should be included in the exercises as well as in the intensity and dosage of the exercise.
- Finally, do something you can find joy in that involves movement and an active lifestyle.
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