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Arthritis prevention

The burden of arthritis conditions can be reduced through intervention at various points along the disease continuum including prevention, early diagnosis, prompt initiation of treatment and ongoing management.

Although some chronic disease risk factors (for example, family history, age or sex) are not able to be modified and so cannot be incorporated into prevention strategies, they can help to identify people or groups at high risk of developing a disease, enabling a targeted approach.

Common chronic disease risk factors

Risk factors you can do something about to all chronic disease include, diet, weight, exercise, alcohol intake and smoking. It is important to understand that adopting healthy lifestyle behaviours will reduce the risk of all chronic diseases, including arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions.

Diet, weight and exercise

Adopting a healthy diet is essential for good health and wellbeing. Eating fruit and vegetables daily lowers the risk of developing chronic diseases. Poor nutrition and diet is linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. These chronic illnesses place an enormous burden on individuals, families and society as a whole. A balanced diet will help to achieve a healthy weight and body. Increasing the intake of calcium and absorption of vitamin D will also assist in reducing the risk of developing arthritis and osteoporosis.

Taking part in regular physical activity reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and obesity as well as helping to build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints, reducing the risk of injury and promoting psychological wellbeing. In particular, regular exercise not only aids in the prevention of musculoskeletal conditions, it helps to alleviate and reduce joint pain and stiffness and build strong muscle around the joints, and increases flexibility and endurance. It is important to avoid sports injuries such as a tear to the anterior cruciate ligament, which may lead to osteoarthritis years or decades later. Weight-bearing exercise assists in the maintenance of bone mass which helps with preventing osteoporosis.

Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight is important. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for most chronic diseases. People who are overweight or obese have an increased risk of developing arthritis or osteoporosis due to the increased load across the weight bearing joints, thus increasing the stress on cartilage and ligaments. Having too much body fat can also increase inflammation in the body, which makes your joints more painful. Evidence suggests that obesity may cause metabolic changes that promote osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis can in turn contribute to being overweight or obese as painful joints may limit physical activity causing weight gain. It is therefore essential for the prevention and management of osteoarthritis to exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet to maintain a healthy body weight.

Alcohol intake and tobacco smoking

Avoiding or eliminating exposure to tobacco in all its forms helps to improve health outcomes and reduce the risk of developing many chronic diseases. Reducing exposure to tobacco use reduces the risk of low bone mass, low bone strength and low body weight, all of which directly impact the development of osteoporosis. Tobacco smoking increases the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Excessive alcohol consumption is a contributing factor to the development of many chronic diseases. It has a negative impact on bone mass for osteoporosis and contributes to increased weight gain, which in turn places pressure on joints, an issue in arthritis conditions.

Last reviewed: July 2016

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