Tips for Osteoarthritis Prevention

Modifying certain risk factors is important

More than 27 million people in the United States have osteoarthritis, and as baby boomers age, the number will start to soar. Osteoarthritis is among the most common causes of disability in adults. By age 40, 90% of people have some level of osteoarthritis in their weight-bearing joints (knees, hips, feet, back) but they may remain asymptomatic (without symptoms) until they are older. There is X-ray evidence of osteoarthritis in 70% of people aged 70 and older.

Clearly, osteoarthritis is a significant medical condition. Can it be prevented? If osteoarthritis prevention were possible, people would likely pay attention to what they needed to do—or would they? Perhaps it's not so simple, but as the saying goes "nothing good comes easy."

Older couple jogging in a park
Pollyana Ventura / Getty Images

Recommendations for Osteoarthritis Prevention

A lot has been written about osteoarthritis prevention. It boils down to modifying risk factors for the disease by adjusting certain aspects of your lifestyle.

There are six basic recommendations for osteoarthritis prevention. Think about each one and ask yourself if you are doing what you should be doing.

Maintain Your Ideal Body Weight

It has been estimated that the force of 3 to 6 times a person's body weight is exerted across the knee while walking. In other words, being 10 pounds overweight increases the force on the knee by 30 to 60 pounds with each step taken while walking. The force across the hip is, at most, three times body weight. Losing weight reduces stress on your joints.

Exercise Regularly and Participate in Regular Physical Activity

For optimal joint health, it's recommended that people perform 30 minutes of moderately strenuous exercise at least five days a week. It's an established fact that regular exercise has health benefits. Moderate recreational activity or sports are not considered a risk factor for OA. Lower levels of exercise can also be beneficial, according to study results. Generally speaking, it's better to get some exercise as opposed to no exercise.

Protect Your Joints

There are several joint protection principles, which if followed, will help to conserve energy and preserve joint function. The advice is quite simple, but you must be mindful of proper movements and recognize body signals (e.g., pain). Good posture and proper body mechanics are important because protecting your joints is a factor in osteoarthritis prevention.

Avoid Repetitive Stress on the Joints

Signs of repetitive stress include too many uninterrupted repetitions of an activity or motion, unnatural or awkward motions, overexertion, incorrect posture, and muscle fatigue. These symptoms usually are associated with your occupation.

People whose jobs require repetitive heavy lifting, stair climbing, squatting, or crawling may be at increased risk for the development of OA. People working in certain professions seem to be at increased risk, including people working in agriculture, firefighting, forestry, and mining.

Try to find solutions at your workplace and avoid prolonged periods of repetitive stress.

Listen to Your Pain

This recommendation seems so obvious, yet people don't always tune into their pain. Learning to view pain as a signal that you are overdoing it and that it's time to rest requires conscious effort. Balancing rest and activity is optimal for healthy joints. It's part of self-management to learn not to overuse your joints and to learn not to push past your limits. Consider that the pain is like a stop sign.

Avoid Injury to Joints

Previous joint injury is recognized as a common cause of osteoarthritis. In joints burdened by improper alignment due to injury, articular cartilage wears away and osteoarthritis can begin to develop. Avoid injury if at all possible—and if you do injure a joint, seek treatment immediately.

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.

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer who covers arthritis and chronic illness. She is the author of "The Everything Health Guide to Arthritis."