By Alia Tuqan, M.D.
October 12-20 is designated as “Bone and Joint Health National Awareness Week,” highlighting the importance of maintaining strong, healthy bones, and joints. Here’s what you need to know about joint health and arthritis.
Remember the classic song lyric, “the hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone?” That’s where joints come in. Joints are the places where two or more bones meet, and there are hundreds of joints in the human body! For example, the femur (thigh bone) connects with the tibia (shin bone) at the knee joint. The pelvis and thigh bones meet at the hip joint.
Joints consist of bones and connective tissues to aid in movement. Tendons are the connective tissues that link muscles to bones, while ligaments are the connective tissues that connect bones. To absorb shock, bones can be lined with cartilage and joint capsules can be filled with fluid. Some joints are surrounded by fluid-filled pockets, called bursa, for protection.
Arthritis is inflammation of joints, often leading to pain. It has many causes. Osteoarthritis is the most common type. It usually occurs gradually with wear and tear of joints, but it also can happen after sports injuries and other accidents. Rheumatoid arthritis is less common. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks joints.
Gout, a painful type of arthritis, happens when uric acid crystals form in joints, most often the toe joint. It occurs more commonly in men than in women. Sometimes, infection and other diseases, such as psoriasis and lupus, can cause arthritis.
If you have joint pain, consult with your doctor. She or he may order blood work and X-rays to determine whether or not you have arthritis and, if so, to identify the specific type.
The type of arthritis determines treatment. Relieving pain and improving quality of life are the goals of treatment. If you have osteoarthritis, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil). If over-the-counter medications are not effective, there are other pain medications that may be prescribed. For other forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout, other medications are available. Ask your doctor before using any over-the-counter medications.
There are other treatment options. Physical therapy helps strengthen and protect joints, thereby reducing pain. Ice, heat, and topical ointments can provide pain relief, as well.
Here are some ways to protect your joints and bones and promote your overall health:
• Stay physically active. Keeping joints strong is sometimes the best way to prevent aches and pains.
• Do low-impact exercise. Swimming is much gentler on the body than running.
• Stretch during the warm-up and cool-down portions of your exercise program.
• Exercise in moderation; don’t overexert yourself. Before starting any exercise program, talk to your doctor.
• Wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes. Prescription, custom orthotic shoe inserts often are covered by insurance. Ask your doctor about them.
• Eat a diet rich in calcium. Foods high in calcium include dairy products and leafy, green vegetables.
• Load up on vitamin D from food sources, including oily fish and vitamin D-fortified foods.
Follow these simple steps for strong joints – and a healthy you!
Dr. Alia Tuqan is a board-certified geriatrician with the highly regarded UCLA Geriatrics Program in Santa Monica and Westwood. For more information, call 310.319.4371 or visit www.uclahealth.org.