The National Institutes of Health estimates that 1 in 4 adults in the US suffers from some form of arthritis, with osteoarthritis (OA) being the most prevalent. OA is a condition in which the cartilage within a joint begins to breakdown and the underlying bone tissue begins to degenerate or wear out. Other common terms for OA are degenerative joint disease (DJD) or “wear and tear” arthritis.
Evidence is continuing to surface demonstrating that OA is as much a lifestyle disease as it has genetic roots. Recent research has shown that metabolic conditions such as obesity, type II adult onset diabetes, high cholesterol and a sedentary lifestyle play a large role in producing early onset OA.
OA has also become a significant factor in reducing quality of life and increasing rates for disability. Because OA causes pain, discomfort, swelling, loss of range of motion and decreased ability to withstand weight bearing, many patients with OA are presenting in the chiropractic office seeking help.
While OA can affect any joint, it is most commonly seen in the knees, hips, ankles and spine. What do these areas all have in common? They are weight bearing joints. These joints are the most abused, take the most force and are involved with all aspects of individual mobility. Increases in body mass, changes in joint chemistry and of course, injuries, all have negative effects on these joints.
When I work with patients suffering with OA, I have two outcome goals for them: less pain and greater mobility. I know that if I we can reduce their pain and get them moving better, their quality of life will improve tremendously. Unfortunately, many people hold the false belief that there is nothing they can do to help arthritis and they are dead wrong.
Let’s take a look at how we can offer hope and help for someone suffering with OA. Here are the 3 areas we address and work on showing improvement in order to help OA patients find relief.
Joint alignment and mobility: Whether it’s the knee, the hip or the spine, joint alignment is key in reducing pain in an arthritic joint. Loss of ideal functional alignment in a joint is primary cause for pain in an arthritic joint. When any joint is not aligned properly, does not have smooth motion and a full range of movement, there will be pain and discomfort. In the knee for example, tibial torsion (misalignment and twisting of the lower leg bones) is commonly a cause for increased knee pain with walking or physical load bearing activity. Restoring ideal alignment though manual joint manipulation restores normal motion to that joint, allowing for less friction, joint irritation and strain on the connective tissue which almost always shows immediate decrease in pain levels. I’ve had patients stand up following this treatment, take a few steps, and report immediate relief.
Weight Loss: Reducing your body mass is the single most valuable thing you can do to provide long term relief for and to prevent arthritis. Not only does the extra weight you carry put more stress on the load bearing joints of the spine, hips, knees and ankles, the extra weight also promotes more global inflammation. Large fat deposits in the body lead to increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines which basically eat away at the cartilage within the joint space. A study out of the Netherlands showed a direct correlation to increased body fat percentage and OA in the hands. Even the though the hands don’t bear weight, the increase in systemic inflammation causes damage to the smaller joint of the hand. I help my patients with weight loss by establishing a healthy eating lifestyle, one they can maintain throughout life. We work together at understanding how to make better food choices, improving cooking techniques and digging into understanding food labels. By make small, consistent changes in eating habits and tracking what you eat, I’ve seen patients lose up to 84 pounds in a year. Needless to say, losing weight has far more benefits than helping arthritis, but feeling better sure does make the weight loss process more enjoyable!
Exercise: It seems counterintuitive to recommend exercise for joints that are wearing out, but ALL of the research shows exercise is a valuable tool in helping to not only reduce pain from arthritis, but to prevent it. Working the diseased joint through a full range of motion without external weight is where we start. Then, as mobility improves, loads are added to increase strength of the supporting muscles and tissues in the joints. Evidence suggests that performing the proper, specific exercises just 3 times per week for 30 minutes can bring about tremendous changes in pain levels and increased activity levels. We have extensive training in helping you learn and perform the exact right exercises for you so that you can see these same results. We start exercises in our training facility and once you’ve established the skills and ability to perform them without supervision, you’re ready to join a gym or be a part of our small group fitness program.
As with many health concerns beyond arthritis, lifestyle plays a significant role in recovery and prevention. At Life Quest, our mission is to help transform lives through chiropractic care, functional fitness and healthy nutrition strategies. We teach our patients how to move, how to eat and how to care for their bodies so that they can have optimal health and robust longevity.