Is arthritis inevitable? Tips to reduce risk of joint disease

Joint pain is common among older adults, but it can be managed with a proper lifestyle.

Is arthritis inevitable? Tips to reduce risk of joint disease

NYT News Service

Experts say that joint pain, stiffness, and swelling is not always a result of aging. (Joyce Lee/The New York Times).

Q: How can we avoid getting


As we age, what happens to our brain?

What used to be a simple run could now feel more difficult. Tennis can leave you with a sore hip or ankle for days. Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling are common complaints among older adults. For many, these symptoms may be the first indication of what can feel like an inevitable diagnosis: arthritis. A recent survey in the United States of 2,200 people aged 50 to 80 found that 60% of respondents had been diagnosed with arthritis by their doctor. About three quarters of Americans believe that arthritis and joint pain are normal parts of aging.

However, arthritis does not always occur as we age.

Kelli Dominick Allen

Exercise physiologist at The

University of North Carolina School of Medicine


Allen explained that "some people may start experiencing joint pains and do nothing about it, thinking everyone will get arthritis as they age." We shouldn't view arthritis as something we have to passively deal with. Arthritis refers to more than 100 types of inflammatory joint diseases, which each can occur for a variety of reasons. Allen says that many of these causes have nothing to do with age.

According to Dr.

Wayne McCormick

A geriatrician working at the

University of Washington School of Medicine

He said, "Basically it's just worn out joints."

Allen stated that osteoarthritis was most common among women over 50. Scientists do not know why some people experience more joint pain and inflammation with age. About 12% of all osteoarthritis is caused by joint injuries such as ligament or meniscus tears. Arthritis can also be more prevalent in people with a history of the disease, or those who suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity or heart disease. As people age, they may experience joint pain that limits their activity. McCormick explained that some people may not experience pain despite having X-rays showing worn-out joints. He added that "each individual has to create their own plan to remain healthy and functional, with the assistance of their doctor." Allen says that for most people, arthritis prevention should start years before the condition becomes a problem. This means taking measures to avoid joint injuries in sports and exercise, as well as recovering from them when they do occur. Allen says that for those who do not have a high risk of sports-related injuries and maintain a healthy body weight, they can reduce the pain of arthritis later in life by staying active. Researchers found in a review of 44 clinical studies conducted in 2015 that regular exercise reduced knee pain due to osteoarthritis, and also improved physical function and life quality. McCormick says that low-impact exercises, such as stationary cycling, are beneficial because they don't put too much pressure on the knees, hips, and joints. He said that strengthening muscles like the quadriceps or hamstrings can help support the joints. McCormick says that in addition to regular exercises, knee braces or ankle supports, pain medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and steroid injections can help to relieve joint pain. He said that not all options work for everyone. It's therefore important to experiment and discover what works best for you. Some people may also find relief from symptoms by taking dietary supplements like glucosamine or chondroitin, or using herbal remedies like boswellia. Allen says that there's not much scientific evidence supporting their use. She said that although there have been many clinical trials, the evidence is mixed. McCormick, however, said that he has found it "very rare" for supplements to cause harm. Therefore, McCormick believes they are worth trying, or discontinuing if they do not seem to work. Allen says that the best way to lower your risk of arthritis in later life is to lead a healthy, active, and pain-free lifestyle. Allen says that many of the same actions that lower the risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes are also "powerful tools" in reducing age-related joint disease. She said that people who are trying to maintain a healthier lifestyle already do the most important things for reducing arthritis risks.