As Singapore’s aged population is set to increase in the future, elderly health conditions are certain to gain prominence. Osteoarthritis (OA), the most common form of arthritis, affects up to 10% of adults and 20% of the elderly population​ in Singapore. If you are experiencing joint pain, you may be suffering from OA. 

Only a minority of those suffering from OA seek medical advice. Although there is no cure, a variety of osteoarthritis treatments available helps patients deal with with joint pain and swelling. If you think you may be at risk of developing osteoarthritis, Associate Professor Katy Leung, Senior Consultant from the Department of Rheumatology and Immunology at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group, shares with us some tips on how to prevent this condition.

5 Tips to prevent osteoarthritis

1. Avoid injuries

Suffering a joint injury when you’re an adolescent or young adult can set you up for osteoarthritis when you get older. To avoid joint injuries when exercising or playing sports, you should:

  • Do warm-up exercises for a few minutes before engaging in any sport.

  • Wear proper footwear that provides shock absorption and stability.

  • Avoid running on asphalt and concrete.

  • When jumping, land with both knees bent.

  • Keep feet as flat as possible during stretches to avoid twisting knees.

  • When doing knee bends, avoid bending past 90°.

  • After engaging in vigorous sports, perform cool down exercises.

If you suffer a joint injury, seek proper medical treatment and take precautions to prevent further damage, such as using a brace to stabilise the affected joint.

2. Keep your muscles strong

There is a strong link between having weak thigh muscles and the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis. Muscles help support your joints so having strong muscles will go a long way towards osteoarthritis prevention. Swimming and cycling are great examples of workouts that do not overload your joints.

If you already have osteoarthritis and worry about joint pain after exercise, ask your doctor or physiotherapist for tips to help you continue to stay active. They may recommend hot or cold application or even pain relievers.

Physiotherapists are the best exercise coach who will assess your condition and prescribe exercise appropriate to your level, and train them up with a step by step approach. It is important that you persevere with the right exercise regimen.

3. Manage your weight

Excess weight puts additional stress on your joints, particularly those that bear the body’s weight such as the knees, hips and joints of the feet. The load you put on your knee joints can be as much as four times your own body weight. If you’re overweight but free of osteoarthritis, losing weight can help prevent the disease. If you already have osteoarthritis, weight loss can help improve osteoarthritis symptoms.

4. Eat healthy

Although there is no specific diet that prevents osteoarthritis, eating a well-balanced diet can help maintain an ideal weight, which is beneficial for your joints. It’s always best to get your vitamin intake through diet instead of supplements. So far, there is no compelling evidence that omega-3 or any other supplements (including glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, etc.) or vitamins can prevent cartilage loss in long term.

5. Lessen strain on your joints

Refrain from putting continual stress on your joints, e.g. continually carrying heavy objects. To avoid injury during lifting, here’s what you should do:

  • Before lifting, spread your feet apart to give your body a wide base of support.

  • Stand close to the object you’re lifting, then squat down by bending at your knees.

  • Look straight ahead while keeping your back straight and bring the object as close to your body as possible. Then slowly lift, using the muscles in your hips and knees.

  • Squat to set the object down.

Some people may consider changing from high impact exercises (eg. marathon running, football, tennis, badminton, etc); towards low impact exercises (eg swimming, brisk walking, cycling, slow jogging).

Walking aids such as cane or stick may help some people. Some special kinds of brace and walking devices can also help relieve joint pain and better train up the muscle.

Physiotherapists can assess your joint condition, and prescribe the most appropriate exercise regimen for you.​

Symptoms of osteoarthritis

With osteoarthritis, joint pain or aching just comes and goes. It may only occur a whole day of using joints, like walking for a long period of time, or after climbing stairs. Some may feel stiff when getting​ up from prolonged sitting. With time, the pain and stiffness become more frequent and not going away.

The symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

  • Joint pain

  • Swelling and stiffness of the affected joints, which is more in the mornings and when you get up from chairs. The pain also tends to worsen during cold weather.

  • Changes in the surrounding joints. Your knees, your finger knobs may appear bigger than when you were young.

  • Warmth – The arthritic joint may feel warm to the touch

  • Crepitation – A sensation of grating or grinding in the affected joint caused by rubbing of damaged cartilage surfaces

  • Walking difficulties, including walking downstairs / down slopes, and when you walk for long distances

"We now know that OA is not just wearing down of cartilage due to ageing, but that the whole joint is problematic. OA is caused by excess body weight, muscle laxity, joint malalignment and past joint injuries," says Assoc Prof Leung.

It’s important to note that there is no evidence to support any kind, any brand or any form of supplements that can prevent cartilage loss in long term, although some patients may feel mild pain relief with some supplements​.

In any case, your best defence against osteoarthritis is the protection of your joints. So follow our tips to lower your chance of even getting OA!

Ref : J22