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Tips to help seniors treat arthritis and maintain joint flexibility

Marian T. Hannan, D.Sc., M.P.H.'s picture
treating arthritis
treating arthritis

As an expert on arthritis, I’m often asked for the best tips on how seniors can stay flexible even while struggling with the pain and stiffness this disease often brings. While there is currently no cure for osteoarthritis, there are a number of steps you can take to care for your joints to either prevent or control the disease.

Arthritis strikes both old and young, but can be particularly debilitating in older adults. Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis which occurs when the joint’s cartilage, the part that cushions the ends of bones, begins to breakdown. It is the most common of more than 100 forms of arthritis.

The cartilage breakdown leads to bones rubbing against each other, causing pain and loss of movement. The knees, hips, fingers, neck and lower back are most commonly affected.

Joints may become less movable and may eventually freeze in a bent position as osteoarthritis worsens. In most cases, the disease progresses slowly after symptoms develop, and many people acquire some degree of disability.

While it primarily affects middle-aged and older adults, osteoarthritis is not an inevitable part of aging. Obesity and sports-, work- and accident-related injuries can also lead to osteoarthritis.

Although, there is no cure for osteoarthritis, there are many ways you can take care of your joints whether you have arthritis or not:

·         Regular, moderate exercise is an essential part of managing arthritis. In addition to promoting overall health, regular exercise can reduce joint pain and stiffness, build strong muscles around joints, and increase flexibility and endurance. Warm-water exercises—in a heated pool or hot tub—can soothe joints, relieve stiffness, and improve blood circulation.

·         For those who are overweight, moderate weight loss can relieve joint strain because extra weight puts unnecessary stress on the body’s weight-bearing joints. Even losing eight to 10 pounds can make a big difference in osteoarthritis symptoms.

·         A well-balanced diet, including Vitamin C and other antioxidants, can reduce the risk of osteoarthritis and its progression. Oranges and other citrus fruits are good sources of folic acid, which can help alleviate some of the side effects of arthritis medications. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in many fish such as salmon, can reduce inflammation and thus help to relieve pain and decrease morning stiffness in joints. Adaptive devices can be helpful in performing many daily activities, such as cooking, dressing and walking.

By following these tips you’ll be well on your way to taking good care of your joints! 

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Senior Scientist, Research Interests and Teaching Activities

Primary research interests focus on understanding the etiology of musculoskeletal diseases and interventions for osteoporosis, specifically: 1) the epidemiology of age-related osteoporosis and arthritis; 2) the influence of foot disorders on physical function and falls; and 3) the influence of dietary and other risk factors on bone loss in elders. Dr. Hannan is the principal investigator on a number of NIH grants and has had continuous NIH funding since 1996. As an epidemiologist, Dr. Hannan collaborates closely with other investigators in the large musculoskeletal unit at HSL, using the...

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