Resources: Senior Health Issues at Hebrew SeniorLife

What is Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common of more than 100 forms of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is characterized by the breakdown of a joint's cartilage, the part of the joint that cushions the ends of bones. This leads to bones rubbing against each other, causing pain and loss of movement. The knees, hips, fingers, neck and lower back are most commonly affected.

While it primarily affects middle-aged and older adults, Marian Hannan, D.Sc., M.P.H., an expert on arthritis and other musculoskeletal diseases at Hebrew SeniorLife, says osteoarthritis is not an inevitable part of aging. Obesity and sports-, work- and accident-related injuries can also lead to osteoarthritis.

Joints may become less movable and may eventually freeze in a bent position as osteoarthritis worsens. In most cases, the disease progresses slowly after symptoms develop, and many people acquire some degree of disability.

While there is currently no cure for osteoarthritis, Dr. Hannan says people can take a number of steps to care for their joints to either prevent or control the disease.

We all know that exercise is important for maintaining our health. Regular, moderate exercise, says Dr. Hannan, can be an essential, too, in managing arthritis. In addition to promoting overall health, regular exercise can reduce joint pain and stiffness, build strong muscles around joints, and increase flexibility and endurance. Warm-water exercises--in a heated pool or hot tub--can soothe joints, relieve stiffness, and improve blood circulation.

Because extra weight puts unnecessary stress on the body's weight-bearing joints, moderate weight loss can relieve joint strain. Dr. Hannan says that even losing eight to 10 pounds can make a big difference in osteoarthritis symptoms.

A proper diet is also an essential element in the prevention and control of osteoarthritis. Research has shown that vitamin C and other antioxidants can reduce the risk of osteoarthritis and its progression. In addition, says Dr. Hannan, oranges and other citrus fruits are good sources of folic acid, which can help alleviate some of the side effects of arthritis medications.

In addition, she says, adaptive devices can be helpful in performing many daily activities, such as cooking, dressing and walking.

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