This article is part of a series in which we will try to make sense of arthritis, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis and how to prevent and deal with these types of disorders via exercise and nutrition.
The definition of osteoarthritis according to the Mayo Clinic Staff:
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting millions of people around the world. Often called wear-and-tear arthritis, osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage on the ends of your bones wears down over time. While osteoarthritis can damage any joint in your body, the disorder most commonly affects joints in your hands, neck, lower back, knees and hips. Osteoarthritis gradually worsens with time, and no cure exists. But osteoarthritis treatments can slow the progression of the disease, relieve pain and improve joint function.
Here are some contributing factors to osteoarthritis.
Aging: What is part of the natural aging process? Nobody knows. There are so many factors that contribute to how you age. I think that what is most important is to adapt to changes in abilities while still maintaining sound behavioral principles. For example, you can’t chalk up arthritis to aging if you over- or underexercised and maintained a poor diet your entire life.
Genetics: You can’t do much about this factor, yet. I see amazing results that override genetic predispositions in my business daily. Chalking up problems to “poor genetics” may be only partially acceptable. However, this factor is uncontrollable so I recommend you stop leaning on the genetic crutch and focus on what you can control: your behavior. I think that our behavior is the biggest factor affecting disease.
Obesity: Of course keeping control of body composition fixes just about everything except for buoyancy. Reducing body weight exponentially reduces wear and tear on nonregenerative tissue, like cartilage. I’ll spare us all the dissertation on the benefits of weight loss.
Biomechanics/Movement: The way you move has an enormous effect on OA. Proper biomechanics will reduce wear on cartilage. I will argue that your own muscles can be the biggest culprit in causing symptoms like OA. A way to reduce these symptoms is to restore optimal movement. Balanced strength and flexibility goes a long way.
Nutrition: If the problem is chronic inflammation, maybe we should try to reduce what may be causing the inflammation? Food causes a lot of bad inflammation. What we put in our gut is probably the largest factor for all symptoms and diseases. Wheat, corn, soy, dairy, fake meat, GMO food, processed food-like substances, drugs, alcohol [the list goes on and on] all cause too much inflammation for the body to eliminate. Remember that inflammation is an absolutely necessary reaction that heals you. Your lymphatic system helps to clear congestion, wastes and toxins from your body along with the kidneys, liver and skin. When we allow this process to work naturally, we experience good health. When the process is over-burdened, we are in a state of attempting to gain homeostasis. Your body works in overdrive to get healthy but can never overcome the onslaught of doughnuts, stress and inactivity. You get the idea.
We are not trying to stop all inflammation, just the prolonged, chronic kind that is caused by bad behavior that is “correlated with” every major killer disease.
Here are some things you can do about it.
No amount of surgery, pills, ice, magnets or calcium fortified “frankenjuice” is going to fix osteoarthritis, or anything else for that matter, if you don’t learn to move and eat better. However, here are some additional options to help a little, but by no means cure anything.
Ice is for acute injuries/trauma only. We have learned that ice only controls pain by temporarily numbing the area. It actually impedes the natural process of inflammation. But it’s cheap and it can’t hurt you so athletic trainers have mistakenly doled out the stuff for decades.
Heat is a better choice for chronic problems because it assists movement of lymph and blood (thus assisting the healing process).
Compression: This ischemic contraction or squeezing brings blood and lymph to the affected area.
Elevation: This helps blood and lymph flow. See the pattern? It also gets you to relax for a few minutes, thus helping the healing process.
Magnets: Remember osmosis? You know, how stuff passes through cell membranes? That’s how magnets work. I have seen great results with magnets because they assist the circulatory system.
Electro-Shock Therapy/Torture: Hooking up to electrodes worked for science fiction so why not for osteoarthritis? It does work a little in my opinion. Physical therapists and athletic trainers use “e-stim” and “tens units” to activate motor nerve function, thus healing you a little faster. I think that most of the benefit is from a neurological distraction from the pain similar to ice.
Pills: I’m no doctor, but I know that pills are always a last resort because of the side effects, which everyone experiences differently. We’ll discuss my opinion of anti-inflammatory drugs in a later article. My advice is to do your own research and have an informed chat with your physician before enabling your lifestyle with pill therapy.
Physical Therapy: PT is an excellent method for prevention and treatment. PTs will help you restore proper mechanics while assisting the healing process. The problem is, as always, insurance. Somehow $150 per hour fits into “affordable health care” (after you meet the deductible, of course). Many PTs will work with you and offer you alternative solutions regardless of payment challenges.
Massage Therapy: This is an excellent way to assist the healing process. MTs have many techniques to stimulate circulation and lymphatic flow.
Chiropractic: This is a great way to restore proper joint function, joint alignment, nerve function, circulation and lymphatic flow and live longer. Chiropractors live an average of 10 years longer than physicians. I don’t know what that means, but I do know that an athletic trainer’s spirit lives on forever, and it requires less schooling.
Surgery: Sorry, but sometimes you just need surgery. I refer clients for surgery when I think they should explore that option. We have excellent orthopedic professionals in the valley who can really help problems that are too-far-gone for lifestyle changes to fix. I don’t recommend that you drink milk while watching Dr. Oz, and then just rely on doctors to fix your problems. But surgery helps a lot more than it hurts.
Egoscue: This little known postural therapy helps many people manage symptoms like osteoarthritis. Egoscue therapists focus on restoring proper posture, which heals a lot of chronic pain for a lot of people who do not get results with other therapies.
These are complex issues that are not easy to assess, diagnose or treat, so please give medical professionals a break. Remember that since most illness is simply the result of lifestyle choices, you can change the behaviors that got you there in the first place. Once you get over the fact that you may be the cause of the problem, you can focus on the solution. You may have noticed that we treat many problems with the same fun stuff (proper movement, nutrition, stress management, etc.).
Steve Wells is an athletic trainer and an owner of Midland Fitness. Please feel free to discuss or argue with Steve about exercise and nutrition or any other topic for that matter at 945-4440.