Bionic Nation?

May 4, 2010 by  
Filed under health

The statistics made me pause. Then shudder. According to the Center for Disease Control, arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the country, limiting the daily activities of roughly 20 million people and costing more than $80 billion (yes, billion) annually. Osteoarthritis currently afflicts roughly 46 million Americans, and that number is projected to grow to 67 million within a few decades. And get this: The American Academy of Orthopoedic Surgeons predict that the number of first-time total knee replacements is predicted to increase by 673 percent within this same period. 673 percent?

Given the enormity of this disease, all of us need to get up to speed about osteoarthritis. To begin with, what is it?

OA is a major debilitating disease causing gradual loss of cartilage, primarily affecting the knees, hips, hands, feet and spine. If you think that you are not a potential victim because you exercise regularly, stretch, and keep an active lifestyle, you should still be concerned, because here is the rub: While vigorous exercise is essential to every aspect of healthy and successful aging, our joints seem to be rebelling in unison. While some say that repetitive stress associated with certain types of exercise is what wears out our hips and knees, others say that exercise or repetitive activity alone does not cause arthritis in the joint. They add that genetic factors along with added weight and/or the result of a previous injury in which the cartilage is damaged is what promotes arthritis.
So what’s a person to do? Can osteoarthritis really be prevented?

The Arthritis Foundation makes the following recommendations to protect joints and prevent osteoarthritis:

Maintain your ideal body weight. Excess weight puts stress on your joints, especially your hips, knees, back, and feet.

Move. Exercise strengthens muscles around joints, this can help prevent wear and tear on cartilage in a joint.

Maintain good posture. Good posture protects your joints from excessive pressure, especially your neck, back, hips, and knees.

Do a variety of physical activity. Alternate periods of heavy activity with periods of rest. For example, if you do weight training one day, do aerobic exercise the next day. Repetitive stress on joints for long periods of time can cause the excessive wear and tear that can lead to osteoarthritis.

Pay attention to pain. If you have joint pain, don’t ignore it. Pain after activity or exercise can be an indication you have overstressed your joints and that they need to rest.

Forget the weekend warrior. Start new activities slowly and safely until you know how your body will react to them. This will reduce the chance of injury.

Avoid injury to joints. Wear proper safety equipment. Don’t leave helmets and wrist pads at home. Make sure your safety gear is comfortable and fits.
Stay tuned, aging athletes. The sad and brutal fact is that cartilage simply doesn’t grow back!

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