Osteoarthritis (OA) is a disease in which the cartilage between the bones of your joints breaks down, leading to swelling, pain, and stiffness. Joint injury, obesity, and aging are some important OA risk factors. More than 32 million adults in the U.S.¹ are affected by OA at any given time, and many of these individuals often wonder if it’s possible to reverse OA.
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You can't reverse osteoarthritis, but you can manage the condition and slow its progression down. However, it’s important you talk with your doctor first before trying any new treatments, remedies, or supplements. This is because certain products and medications can interact with each other, causing side effects.
The scientific community is studying treatment options for osteoarthritis, and researchers are searching for ways to reverse this condition. Until that research is successful, there are ways to slow down the progression of osteoarthritis.
Some ways you can slow down the progression of this disease are:
1. Watch your nutrition
A healthy diet that delivers sufficient nutrients, vitamins and minerals, is essential for the health of your joints. A plant-based, whole-food diet focused on fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains might help ease your OA symptoms².
2. Exercise regularly
Exercise can help manage OA. Exercising regularly can help ease your pain, swelling, and stiffness and may also help slow down the disease's progression. Many health professionals suggest you incorporate moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity (a minimum of 150 minutes)³ per week into your routine. It's also recommended to include various forms of activity in a routine workout program, such as:
Stretching to decrease stiffness
Strength training to help build up your muscles
Balance exercises to build up your strength
Cardio to increase stamina and lower weight
While walking is a common physical activity recommended for osteoarthritis, there is no consensus regarding an ideal exercise protocol for all people with OA⁴. It's more important you find a workout routine that will work for you. And you may wish to hire a personal trainer to help you with this.
Research⁵ has shown that supervised workout programs for osteoarthritis are more efficient than unsupervised workout programs.
3. Control your blood sugar
High blood glucose (sugar) levels accelerate the formation of specific molecules with a higher sensitivity to mechanical stress and are responsible for making cartilage stiffer. Cartilage loss can be the result of systemic inflammation triggered by diabetes⁶. The recently identified connection between joint damage and diabetes may help provide an explanation why more than 50% of people in the US⁷ who have received a diabetes diagnosis also have arthritis.
4. Incorporate chondroprotective nutrients in your diet
You find these in common spices and foods. They're thought to help protect your joints and cartilage and include:
Compounds extracted from green tea
Phytoflavinoids, polyphenols, and bioflavonoids found in these foods may improve mobility and help to ease the pain. They're also showing promise in slowing down the progression of OA.
However, although several nutrients are claimed to be chondroprotective, such as chondroitin and glucosamine, their use has not been supported. The 2019 guidelines by the American College of Rheumatology and Arthritis Foundation⁵ recommend not using them for knee, hand, and/or hip OA. The only exception to this is, which is conditionally suggested, is using chondroitin for hand arthritis.
In addition, due to the possibility of interaction between supplements and other medicines, you'll want to speak with your doctor before you try any chondroprotective nutrients.
5. Talk with your doctor about medication
Along with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, such as pain-relieving nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), prescription medications are used to help manage osteoarthritis³ in some cases. Talk with your doctor to decide on the best medicine for you.
Different medicines for the treatment of OA may include:
Prescription-strength or OTC NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen
Topical counterirritants like lidocaine, capsaicin, and menthol
Medicines known as disease-modifying OA drugs (DMOADs) have shown some promise in clinical trials, potentially slowing down OA progression by repairing or regenerating damaged cartilage. For example, preliminary studies have shown the effectiveness of a DMOAD called sprifermin in increasing the cartilage thickness in the knee⁸.
6. Protect your joints
While you can't avoid all injuries, protecting your joints⁷ is important to ensure your OA doesn’t progress any faster than necessary. Use your strongest, largest joints to lift and carry objects and take breaks as often as you need at work or home. If you've had an injury, it's important to maintain a healthy body weight which will help protect against further damage to your joints.
7. Support your joints
Supportive joint gear can help you manage the symptoms of arthritis³. There are various types of supportive joint gear often used for this purpose. These include:
A professional should fit devices like these to ensure their effectiveness is maximized.
There are also assistive devices designed to help you perform some home-based tasks like cleaning or cooking. For instance, there are special utensils with grips to make them easier for you to hold on to. You'll also find other devices, such as:
8. Talk to your doctor about surgery
Surgery for replacing or repairing an arthritic joint may help to improve function and mobility³. It won't guarantee total relief of your osteoarthritis symptoms, however. Surgery is also only considered for severe osteoarthritis cases when other types of treatments have been inadequate.
9. Make healthy lifestyle choices
We can't change certain OA risk factors. For example, you are more likely to develop OA when you get older, likely because of how many cartilage cells just diminish over time.
Another factor thought to play a role in developing OA is lower estrogen levels in women after menopause, as more women than men seem to develop the disease after the age of 50⁷. Some individuals also inherit genes that make them more likely to develop the condition.
Because of risk factors like these, it's important that you make healthy lifestyle choices. Exercise, diet, managing stress, sleep, smoke, and alcohol consumption may have a significant influence on your joints and overall health.
10. Keep a healthy weight
Being overweight can increase your chances of developing OA in a couple of ways:
Excess weight adds extra stress on your weight-bearing joints (i.e., knees)
Inflammatory factors linked with weight gain may contribute to problems in other joints (i.e., hands).
Take your knees, for example. The force on your knees when walking across the level ground is equal to one and a half times your body weight. This means 300 pounds of pressure is added to a 200-pound man's knees with every step.
When you add an incline, it results in greater pressure and places force on your knees, up to two to three times the weight of your body⁹ when going up or downstairs. When you squat down to pick up something you dropped or tie your shoes, your knees are carrying four to five times the weight of your body.
Losing weight can make a significant impact on decreasing the pressure on your knees and will help protect your knees going forward. For instinct, losing just 10 pounds can reduce the progression of knee OA by 50%, according to a study¹⁰.
11. Enhance your self-management skills
Take a self-management class. These classes are designed to help individuals with arthritis and other types of chronic disorders, like osteoarthritis, understand the way arthritis impacts their lives. They also help increase confidence in managing symptoms and improving quality of life.
12. Schedule routine follow-ups with your doctor
You can be active in your arthritis management by scheduling and attending routine appointments with your doctor as well as following the treatment plan they've tailored for you. This is particularly essential if you have other chronic disorders, like heart disease or diabetes.
While osteoarthritis is manageable, it is a degenerative disease. If you ignore it, it will become worse over time. Arthritis is a significant reason behind adult disability. Therefore, it's important that you don't hesitate to talk with your doctor about any symptoms you're experiencing.
Researchers are continually studying potential osteoarthritis treatment options and the possibility of reversion. There's definitely hope for better future treatment alternatives, but in the meantime, the best approach is slowing the progression of the condition as much as possible.
Osteoarthritis (OA) | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Osteoarthritis | Arthritis Foundation
Slowing osteoarthritis progression | Arthritis Foundation
Why weight matters when it comes to joint pain | Harvard Health Publishing