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Ways to Protect Your Joints

Whether you’ve already been diagnosed with arthritis or are simply looking to avoid it, here are things you can do to protect your joints and preserve your mobility.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a full half of adults over 65 have osteoarthritis. And while it’s common, it’s not inevitable. Whether you’ve already been diagnosed with arthritis or are simply looking to avoid it, here are things you can do to protect your joints and preserve your mobility.

Intervene early

Unfortunately for many people with multiple health issues, such as diabetes, joint pain may take a back seat. “Health care providers may not ask about it, or the person with the problem thinks it’s just a normal part of aging,” says Joanne Jordan, M.D., M.P.H., former director of the Thurston Arthritis Research Center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. However, caring for your joints may play an important role in getting and keeping your other health conditions in control. According to Jordan, arthritis in the knees and hips is very likely to interfere with the ability to exercise. Being unable to exercise can interfere with your efforts to control weight, glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol.

Consider physical therapy

Ask your health care provider to refer you to a physical therapist. “Muscles can get very weak, even before you’re experiencing discomfort,” Jordan says. Engaging in regular strength exercises, also called resistance training, may ease your pain, allowing you to perform everyday activities more easily. “Have the goals you’d like to achieve with physical therapy set for your appointment,” she says. “Be emphatic about what you can’t currently do that you’d like to be able to do.”

Try to lose weight

Shedding any amount of weight takes pressure off joints and may lower blood glucose. Being just 10 pounds overweight increases the force on your knees by 30–60 pounds. If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, take some steps to lose just 5–10 percent of your current body weight. This seemingly small amount of weight loss can lower blood glucose levels and blood pressure, and improve cholesterol. For people with prediabetes, losing a small amount of weight has been shown to reverse or slow the progression from prediabetes to type 2.

Get off the couch

Nearly one-third of people with type 2 diabetes and arthritis are inactive, compared with 21 percent of people who have only diabetes and 17 percent of people with only arthritis, according to the CDC. But being physically active is one of the best actions you can take to treat both conditions: moving your joints combats the pain and stiffness of arthritis, and if you engage in enough physical activity, it can help lower blood sugar and assist with weight loss.

A small study published in the November 2013 issue of the journal Radiology shows that exercise may benefit people with type 2 diabetes—even if they don’t make any other lifestyle changes. This is because exercise reduces harmful fat around the heart and liver, and it decreases insulin resistance and improves insulin sensitivity early in the disease process. The American Diabetes Association recommends 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week, which can include biking, walking, swimming and more, and resistance training at least twice a week, such as using weights or resistance bands.

Eat healthful foods

Choosing healthful foods, including low-fat dairy foods, whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and consuming the right amount of calories is key to managing diabetes and may also alleviate joint pain. An eating plan that emphasizes vegetables, fish and whole grains and includes healthful fats, such as liquid vegetable oils, nuts and fats in oily fish, is a good place to start. Plant-based whole-food diets that rely on unsaturated fats—especially omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish—may help reduce pain

Manage your meds

Treatment can be tricky. Steroids like prednisone, which are often used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, increase the risk for type 2 diabetes. But other diabetes drugs, such as hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), and medications in a group known as tumor necrosis factor blockers, such as infliximab (Remicade) and adalimumab (Humira), have been shown to improve glucose tolerance and prevent type 2 diabetes. A 2013 study found that A1C levels were 37 percent lower in a group of subjects taking salsalate, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, compared with people not on the drug. Work closely with your health care provider to choose the right drugs.

Beware of surgical complications

If your joint damage leads to the need for surgery, such as arthroscopy or joint replacement, it’s wise to have your blood sugar in good control before and after the procedure to enhance your ability to heal. People with elevated glucose tend to heal more slowly and face higher cardiac risks prior to and following surgery. 

© Meredith Corporation. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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