How to Stop Arthritis From Progressing

It may not always be possible to prevent arthritis, but you can slow it down

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Osteoarthritis, commonly referred to as wear-and-tear arthritis, is the most common form of arthritis, affecting over 30 million Americans.

Persons diagnosed with osteoarthritis often worry about the progressive nature of the disease and wonder if they will one day end up needing joint replacement surgery. By making changes in your life, however, you may be able to avoid this outcome and potentially slow or stop arthritis from progressing. Here are five fixes that can help.

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Lose Weight

Obesity is one of the most significant contributing factors to arthritis progression. The cause is relatively simple: the more stress you place on already damaged joints, the greater the inflammation will be. Over time, this can further deteriorate the structural integrity of the joint, increasing pain and interfering with a person's mobility and range of motion.

By losing just five to 10% of their body weight, people will often experience dramatic relief of their arthritis symptoms.

While exercising with painful joints can be difficult, there are a number of fitness routines that are well suited for people with arthritis. These focus on three exercise components:

  • Range-of-motion exercises done daily
  • Strengthening exercises performed every other day
  • Endurance exercises done for 20 to 30 minutes three times weekly

In addition, weight loss will likely involve changes in your diet, including plenty of produce and a variety of protein sources and the avoidance of excess sugar, salt, and alcohol. A dietitian may be able to help tailor a sustainable, well-balanced diet plan to trim those extra pounds and promote better overall health.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Studies suggest that individuals who follow a Mediterranean diet have lower biomarkers of inflammation and those with osteoarthritis have a better quality of life.

A Mediterranean diet is high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, and seafood. It also includes moderate mounts of olive oil, dairy, poultry, and eggs.

In addition, in surveys of those with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own tissues and joints, the foods most often reported to reduce arthritis symptoms were:

  • Berries, such as blueberries and strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Fatty fish, such as salmon

Each of these foods can be part of a Mediterranean diet.

The foods and drinks most often reported to worsen arthritis symptoms in the survey were sodas and desserts.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Preliminary research suggest that omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fish, may help reduce inflammation involved in osteoarthritis and may even help prevent arthritis. More research is needed, however, it's already recommended to eat at least two servings a week of fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, as part of a heart-healthy diet.

Modify Your Activities

The rule is simple: if you feel pain when doing an activity, it is not good. While you can often strengthen certain muscles to help bolster painful joints, you shouldn't push yourself excessively. In the end, you may do more damage than good.

There may be times when you will need to modify your routine activities to preserve the mobility that you have. For example, impact sports may be something you enjoy, but the damage they can cause may help accelerate the progression of arthritis.

If faced with this reality, try to focus on finding low-impact activities you enjoy, such as cycling, swimming, kayaking, cross-country skiing, rowing, rollerblading, Pilates, and yoga. Trading in the running shoes for a NordicTrack may be tough, but will allow you to build up a healthy sweat without needless stress on your ankles, knees, and hips.

If, on the other hand, you live a more sedentary lifestyle, you may want to start by meeting with a physical therapist. A therapist can teach you how to safely stretch and strengthen vulnerable joints and provide you with a structured program to gradually move you into routine exercise.

Use Anti-Inflammatory Medications

Arthritis is defined as the inflammation of the joints. Therefore, it makes sense to do whatever you can to reduce the inflammation that will accelerate joint damage.

If your healthcare provider has already prescribed medications to treat chronic joint pain, take them as directed. If not, and the pain is affecting your mobility or keeping you up at night, speak with your practitioner about prescription and non-prescription options. Among them:

  • Analgesics are used for pain relief and include Tylenol (acetaminophen), prescription opioids, and an atypical opioid called Ultram (tramadol).
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to ease both inflammation and pain and include aspirin, Advil (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen), and Celebrex (celecoxib).
  • Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs injected directly into the inflamed joint.
  • Hyaluronic acid occurs naturally in the body and can be injected into a joint as a shock absorber and lubricant.

Use a Supportive Device

People with arthritis will often avoid walking aids, which may make them feel old and frail. But the fact is that people who do so often walk less because they are either unsteady on their feet or afraid to place weight on a swollen joint. As such, avoiding these devices can make your condition worse.

Supportive devices are no longer limited to canes and walkers. People with knee arthritis can sometimes turn to a device known as an unloader brace, which selectively relieves pressure on the most damaged side of a joint. There are even rolling walkers (rollators) that allow you to move more freely without the fits and starts of a standard walker.

While these newer devices won't work for everyone, it may be worth speaking to your healthcare provider to see if they are the appropriate choice for you.

A Word From Verywell

Having arthritis may mean that you need to take some steps to prevent pain or manage stiffness, but it doesn't necessarily mean you have to have surgery or other invasive treatments. Many people take steps to manage their condition and prevent arthritis from worsening. Often, with some simple treatment and prevention steps, people with arthritis can learn to manage symptoms so that they can remain in control.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Bliddal H, Leeds AR, Christensen R. Osteoarthritis, obesity and weight loss: evidence, hypotheses and horizons - a scoping review. Obes Rev. 2014;15(7):578-586. doi:10.1111/obr.12173

  3. Arthritis Foundation. Benefits of Exercise for Osteoarthritis.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy Eating for a Healthy Weight.

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  6. Tedeschi SK, Frits M, Cui J, et al. Diet and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms: survey results from a rheumatoid arthritis registryArthritis Care Res. 2017;69(12):1920-1925. doi:10.1002/acr.23225

  7. Lopez HL. Nutritional interventions to prevent and treat osteoarthritis. Part i: focus on fatty acids and macronutrients. PM&R. 2012;4:S145-S154. doi:10.1016/j.pmrj.2012.02.022

  8. American Heart Association. Fish and omega-3 fatty acids.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical Activity for Arthritis.

  10. Arthritis Foundation. Analgesics.

  11. Arthritis Foundation. Picking the Right NSAID for OA Pain.

  12. Arthritis Foundation. Use of Corticosteroids in Osteoarthritis

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By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.