By: Kate Cottrell
If your knees, hips, hands or other joints are stiff and swollen, especially first thing in the morning or after a period of inactivity, you may be affected by osteoarthritis. This painful condition develops when the cartilage that provides cushioning between the joints breaks down.1 Although osteoarthritis does occur more commonly as we age (and theoretically, our store of cartilage cells declines),2 it is now recognized as a disease of the joints.
Various factors can contribute to osteoarthritis, including previous injuries or overuse, genetics, and excess weight; fairly recently, diabetes has been identified as an osteoarthritis risk factor. That’s because high blood glucose, which tends to occur with uncontrolled diabetes, creates biochemical changes that cause the cartilage to stiffen, making the joints more sensitive to mechanical stress. Being overweight can have similarly negative effects due to the biochemical activity of body fat, which releases proteins that promote a chronic state of low-grade inflammation throughout the body. This can leave all the joints, not just those that bear weight, more susceptible to developing arthritis.2
Recommended non-drug approaches to osteoarthritis management include controlling blood glucose, losing weight and being physically active: even 30 minutes of moderately intense activity five times a week makes a difference.2 An individualized therapeutic exercise program has been shown to reduce pain while building muscle strength and endurance, and improving range of joint motion.3
Aquatic exercise is a great way to work out while sparing weight-bearing joints. Depending on the type of osteoarthritis, walking aids, crutches, shoe insoles, braces and patellar taping (to support the knee) are also useful tools. Your doctor can suggest medications and provide a referral to a physiotherapist.3