If you've just been diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA), you're not alone. Many women
past age 50 discover OA is the reason for their creaking knees, aching backs,
and sore fingers. Suddenly life is all about osteoarthritis -- but luckily, arthritis doesn't have to take control.
Arthritis is "the most common form of disability. It's also a natural
part of aging," says Primal Kaur, MD, director of the
Osteoporosis Clinic at Temple University School of Medicine in
Jerry Wade used to love bird-watching with his wife, an avid birder.
"I'm not a birder myself, but I like being active and getting out there
with her," he says. "Bird-watching puts you into natural areas and some
rough terrain -- it's not an easy physical activity."
But in the fall of 2005, the 66-year-old Columbia, Mo., resident, who had
retired in 2000 from a career in community development, started noticing
"pains and twinges" in his knees. A visit to his doctor in January 2006
In the U.S., one in five adults has osteoarthritis -- 24 million women and
17 million men, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
"I'm constantly telling people that the body is like a car, so there's
going to be wear and tear as we grow older," Kaur, an arthritis specialist,
tells WebMD. Men typically feel the onset earlier in life than women do, she
says. "But after age 55, more women than men will develop it -- and women
often have it more severely."
All About Osteoarthritis: What's Going On Here?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a condition that affects cartilage, the rubbery
cushion covering bones in the joints, keeping them flexible. Over time,
cartilage begins to stiffen and damages more easily -- and gradually it loses
its "shock absorber" qualities. Bones start rubbing against each other,
and the pain begins.
Women tend to be plagued by osteoarthritis more than men. Heredity increases
the risk: A genetic defect triggering defective cartilage or a joint
abnormality can lead to osteoarthritis. "If your mom had knobby fingers,
you're more likely to develop arthritis there," says Kaur.
Other risk factors are involved: Obesity puts extra stress on knees and hips,
which leads to cartilage breakdown. A sports injury, severe back injury, or
broken bone takes a toll on the joints -- and pretty soon, it's all about
"Pain is the symptom that gets everyone's attention," Kaur tells
13 Tips: Rein in Your Osteoarthritis Pain
Your life doesn't have to be all about osteoarthritis. There's much you can
do to enjoy a better quality of life. By learning about your disease -- and
making some changes -- you can live well.
1. Lose Weight. If you are overweight or obese, you're
putting extra stress on weight-bearing joints. Losing weight lessens the risk
of further joint injury. It also increases your mobility.
2. Work on Your Diet. If losing weight is a goal, talk to a
dietitian to get on track with healthy eating habits. Also, antioxidant and
calcium supplements can boost your bone strength: Vitamin D (400 IU daily) and
calcium (1,000-1,200 mg daily). Antioxidant vitamins C and E may also provide
3. Stay Active. Exercise is hands-down the best treatment
for osteoarthritis. Exercise helps you lose weight, increases flexibility,
eases pain, boosts your mood, strengthens your heart, and improves blood flow.
Mall walking, swimming, and water aerobics are popular because they are easy on
joints. If exercise is painful at first, stay with it... it will get easier,
reducing overall pain in the long run. But be sure to talk to your doctor
before starting a new fitness or diet plan.