What can I do to help prevent osteoarthritis?

Here are some things that can help prevent osteoarthritis:

  • Weight control: Reducing body weight can reduce the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis by about 20 percent in men and by more than 30 percent in women. In patients who already have knee osteoarthritis, weight loss reduces the risk that the disease will get worse.
  • Strengthen the muscles: Whether or not knee pain is felt, patients with signs of osteoarthritis in their x-rays had thigh muscles that were considerably weaker than patients without signs of osteoarthritis. Strengthening muscles is assumed to provide greater support for the joints and to reduce the risk of osteoarthritis. Regardless of any effect on the risk of getting osteoarthritis, regular exercise—especially weight-bearing exercise—helps maintain physical function and slows the development of disabilities significantly.
  • Prevent injuries: Stress on a joint that goes beyond what the joint is capable of taking, especially if the stress is repetitious, increases the risk of osteoarthritis later on. The same is true for sudden injuries such as bone fractures, meniscus tears or tears of ligaments.
  • Antioxidants: Intake of antioxidant nutrients—including vitamins C, D and E and beta-carotene—has been found to be beneficial in people with osteoarthritis. One study found that people with osteoarthritis who consumed more antioxidant nutrients, especially vitamin C, slowed the progression of the disease, reduced the risk of cartilage loss and reduced the risk of developing knee pain. These relationships were not seen with other nutrients. The results of the study may be explained by the effects of the antioxidant nutrients but also could be due to the fact that healthier people are more likely to eat diets that are rich in antioxidants.

So far, there is no proof that increased consumption of antioxidants can reduce the risk of developing osteoarthritis in people who are free of the disease. It is also important to understand that antioxidant nutrients do not act independently from other nutrients and cannot replace eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.

  • Vitamin D: Osteoarthritis sufferers who have low blood levels and consume inadequate amounts of vitamin D tend to have a more rapid progression of the disease (as seen in x-rays) than people who consume adequate amounts of vitamin D. Intake of vitamin D has not been found to affect the risk of getting osteoarthritis.

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The best way to prevent osteoarthritis (OA) is by exercising. Exercise is good for joints and nourishes the cartilage. Maintaining an ideal body weight is just as important because being overweight increases the risk of OA. OA is caused by a genetic predisposition or trauma. Aerobic exercise in itself has not been proven to cause OA even for long distance runners.

Osteoarthritis cannot be totally prevented but with active care many of the symptoms can be diminished. Gentle exercise and weight management can reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis by minimizing the stress on weight bearing joints and strengthening the muscle around the joint. Rest and using a brace or cane to get through the day helps to reduce the stress on your joints and allows inflamed joints time to recover. Applying pain creams and hot and cold to the affected area may reduce pain and swelling, making it easier to use the affected joint.

The risk for developing osteoarthritis can be reduced by maintaining a healthy weight, as obesity is associated with increased incidence of osteoarthritis. Additionally, adequate low-impact exercise can reduce the risk of developing osteoarthritis by maintaining muscle strength without excessive, repetitive loading of joints.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

If you watched your parents struggle with osteoarthritis, it may be tempting to assume that the same fate awaits you. But you can take steps to keep your joints healthy.

If you want to avoid osteoarthritis, keeping your weight under control is a must. People who pack on pounds as they age dramatically increase their risk for osteoarthritis. In fact, studies show that people with arthritis are at least 50 percent more likely to be obese than people with healthy joints. That's probably because extra weight means added pressure on the knees, hips and other joints. There is also new evidence that inflammatory chemicals produced by body fat may damage the joints.

Staying active can help prevent osteoarthritis too. That may sound strange if you've always heard that wear and tear damages the joints. But the research is clear: People who exercise regularly have better mobility and less joint pain.

If you are overweight and don't exercise, your doctor can recommend a diet and fitness plan that's right for you. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.