Aging and Osteoarthritis: How Seniors Can Protect Their Joints

An estimated 27 million Americans suffer from a degenerative joint disease called osteoarthritis, including 12 million seniors older than 65.

Osteoarthritis occurs following the wear of cartilage and damage of the underlying bone. This can lead to pain and joint stiffness, often in the knees, hips, hands and spine. It usually begins around the age of 40 and gradually grows worse.

As the boomer population ages, the number of seniors with the disease is set to skyrocket. By 2030, osteoarthritis could affect as many as 70 million Americans, according to AARP.

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Osteoarthritis Can Lead to Disability and Require Surgery

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and accounts for more than half of arthritis-related hospitalizations. Osteoarthritis affects normal activities and makes it difficult to get around. In fact, it is the leading cause of disability in older adults.

The Arthritis Foundation lists some of the causes of osteoarthritis:

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Injury
  • Genetics
  • Muscle weakness

Treatments for osteoarthritis include controlling pain, taking supplements and undergoing physical therapy. Another option to treat osteoarthritis is hip or knee replacement. Nearly 1 million knees and hips are replaced each year in America.

Joint replacement surgery can ease pain and restore mobility, but there are also risks like infection and blood clots. Even though joint replacement surgery can successfully treat osteoarthritis, doctors encourage patients to consider more conservative options first.

Protecting Your Joints

Seniors can help to protect themselves from osteoarthritis through lifestyle choices and regular check-ups. Some of the best ways to avoid osteoarthritis include:

  • Staying Active: Even though exercise may seem like it could create joint problems, resting the joint can lead to more pain and discomfort over time. Exercise -- especially low-impact options like swimming, water aerobics, biking and yoga -- strengthens the muscles around the joint and helps a person maintain their weight as well.
  • Losing Weight: Extra pounds put more pressure on the joints and may cause inflammation, which can lead to pain and stiffness. Recent studies show that obesity has led to a rise in osteoarthritis cases, which can often be avoided if a healthy weight is maintained. Once osteoarthritis sets in, extra pounds only make the problems worse.

Some doctors believe early detection could protect people from serious osteoarthritis problems, but there is no early detection test. Researchers in other countries are working on tests that may identify early signs of osteoarthritis in the blood or joint fluid.
Since there is no way to replace cartilage or reverse severe joint damage, the best approach is to maintain a healthy lifestyle as the years go by.

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