Approximately 1 in 8 Australians have Osteoarthritis (OA), with total knee and hip replacements both increasing by 32% and 25% respectively in the last 10 years.
But why is OA becoming such a major risk to the good health of Australians?
We all know that being overweight can increase our risk of developing OA. Obesity is known to be a strong risk factor for OA - even for the joints in the hands, which we don’t walk and put strain on (unless we belong to the circus!). But it may not be only the extra weight and strain on the joints which is contributing to this condition. New research is showing that the actual excess fatty tissue is causing the production of detrimental inflammatory substances which are damaging our joints.
So how does obesity contribute to the development of OA?
Body fat is an active tissue that causes inflammation
Body fat is not a stationary structure. It is constantly active, producing inflammatory chemicals in the body, such as cytokines and adipokines, that have been shown to cause destruction of the joints. These inflammatory chemicals circulating around the body are associated with cartilage loss in the joints, which in turn leads to OA.
What does this extra weight do to the joints?
An overweight individual carrying 20-30kg extra inflammatory active body fat is not only burdening their joint with the pure weight, but the inflammatory chemicals being produced by this extra fat are also causing further damage the joint. This consequently affects the joints ability to carry the extra weight. And so on the cycle continues. This inflammatory process also explains why other joints in the body which don’t carry our weight, such as the hands and wrists may develop OA when we carry extra weight.
Early prevention is best
Increasing fat mass is associated with the development of pre-clinical OA, faster loss of knee cartilage, increased possibility for joint replacement and more back pain, disability and foot pain. Australians gain on average about 0.7kg weight per year, which over time can add up to a significant weight and burden on the joints. So it is really vital to maintain a healthy weight to prevent weight related damage to the joints as we age.
Other ideas for preventing OA
Besides the obvious of maintaining a healthy weight, what else can we do to prevent the onset of OA? Here are some ideas:
- Keep moving – avoid sitting for extended periods of time. This can cause just as much repetitive strain as other more active risk factors.
- Flaunt that fitness – regular exercise, and keeping as physically active as possible can be protective against osteoarthritis not only through weight loss, but by increasing circulation and nutrients to the cartilage in the joint.
- Strengthen those muscles – maintaining a good muscular strength to support the joints will put less strain on them. Visit a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist who can advise you on suitable exercises for your body.
- Improve your balance – warm water exercise and tai chi are helpful types of exercise you can try out to increase your balance and co-ordination, to support your joints without causing extra weight bearing strain.
- Eat healthy – maintaining a healthy balanced diet with plenty of wholegrains, fresh vegetables and fish can help to reduce inflammation in the body.
Give the ideas above a try, and you’ll be on your way to healthy joints!