Arthritis is a very common medical condition, estimated to affect around seven million people in the UK. However, it is not a single disease, but comes in around 200 different forms. The term essentially means an inflammation of the joints. This inflammation makes the joints painful, stiff, and swollen, and in severe cases can significantly restrict movement.
Surprisingly, even with all the advances of modern science and medicine we are still not entirely sure what causes osteoarthritis, but here’s what we know. Not to be confused with rheumatoid arthritis, which is a result of a malfunctioning auto immune system and can happen to people of a younger age, osteoarthritis is more commonly associated with wearing out of the joints and connective tissue that occur with the ravages of time (as we at Diets Don’t Work like to call it!). With aging, the water content of the cartilage increases, and the protein makeup of cartilage degenerates. Eventually, cartilage begins to degenerate by flaking or forming tiny crevasses. In advanced cases, there is a total loss of cartilage cushion between the bones of the joints. Repetitive use of the worn joints over the years can irritate and inflame the cartilage, causing joint pain and swelling. Loss of the cartilage cushion causes friction between the bones, leading to pain and limitation of joint mobility. Inflammation of the cartilage can also stimulate new bone outgrowths (spurs, also referred to as osteophytes) to form around the joints. Osteoarthritis occasionally can develop in multiple members of the same family, implying a hereditary (genetic) basis for this condition.
Now the good news: there is lots you can do to prevent the onset and/or live with the condition if you already have it. One of the most important things is to be as light as you can (that’s a polite way of saying don’t be overweight). For every pound you are overweight that’s 0.5 of a pound extra that each knee is having to lug around. It does not sound like much but go to the supermarket and feel how much 1/2 a pound of potatoes weighs – it’s a lot! This extra weight will wear down the smooth hard cartilage on which your knee hinges faster that it otherwise would. Secondly try to eat as balanced a diet as possible – only when your body is getting enough nutrients and water will it be able to maintain this all important connective tissue.
At Diets Don’t Work we also recommend taking glucosamine sulphate with chondroitin if you think you are beginning to get osteoarthritis. Exercise is also very very important. Not only will some structured weight-bearing exercise improve your overall health but it will help support your joints and encourage adaptive regeneration of connective tissue. Resistance training to keep the muscles of the upper leg (quads, in particular the vastus medialis) strong will also keep the patella in line and prevent excessive wear and tear. Some of the symptoms are stiffness in the joints, especially weight bearing ones (ankles/knees/hips) and especially after a period of inactivity, inflammation, or a dull to painful ache in the joints. Look out for the extremities also (fingers/toes). At Diets Don’t Work all our trainers are qualified to REPS level 3 and so are able to train special population groups including osteo and rheumatoid arthritis. Many of our personal training clients suffer from these conditions to a lesser or greater degree but with specialist tailor made programmes our trainers can really help keep you active, fit, thinner and mobile!