Moving more, not less, may be best for lessening the ache of osteoarthritis.
Over time, the wear and tear of getting from here to there can take a toll. The pounding stress of certain sports – think running, tennis, and basketball, for example – only adds to the beating your knees take. For lots of folks, age, athletics, or a combination of the two slowly turns the spring in their step into a sting that won’t stop – osteoarthritis (OA).
Basically, OA is the term for the gradual breakdown of the body’s natural joint cushions, cartilage. It is the most common chronic joint condition, according to the Arthritis Foundation, affecting some 27 million folks in the United States.
And, because it’s a gradual decay – like wrinkles and thinning hair – you probably won’t notice the signs at first. (It’s just a few hairs on the pillow, right? Until you look in the mirror and see your father staring back!)
Eventually, though, once enough cartilage goes, OA shows up with some tell-tale symptoms:
- Pain after too much use, often accompanied by inflammation
- Stiffness when you get up in the morning
- Stiffness that lessens when you start moving again
Want to fight OA? Go for a bike ride.
It may seem counterintuitive, but, says Dr. Lee Kaplan, director of the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute, exercise is one of the best things for OA, as long as it’s of the non-impact variety like cycling, swimming, or exercising on an elliptical or Stairmaster.
The movement helps. It also spurs your body to unleash its natural narcotics, endorphins.
“There is a general feeling better when the endorphins get released,” says Dr. Kaplan. “And that has a lot to do with the pain in your knee. Your motion gets better. And then the cartilage does well and the inflammation does better and goes away when you’re working out.”
“Getting your bodyweight where it should be decreases the weight on your legs,” he says. “It’s about six times the body weight that goes through the knee. So if you lose 10 pounds it takes 60 pounds off your knee.”
Which is another good reason to exercise.
Adding some weight can be good for you, though – if it’s the kind you lift.
“Strength training helps,” says Dr. Kaplan. “Your quadriceps and your thighs are critical because they absorb the shock. Less shock going on that bone-to-bone area, less arthritis.”
GET BLUE … AND RED, AND GREEN
Cyclists, swimmers and all around athletes, take note: Colorful fruits and veggies can help fight the inflammation that often comes with OA. So, can fish oils and fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines.
“There are a lot of thoughts that eating less sugary foods which can cause inflammation and more anti-inflammatory foods such as blueberries that have antioxidants in them can actually help,” says Dr. Kaplan.
Carlos Harrison is a contributing writer for the UMiami Health News Blog. He is a former national and international television correspondent, as well as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor.