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While you can't alter many of the risk factors for primary OA, such as age and heredity, you can make changes to your life that reduce the chances of developing OA.

This section includes information on four such changes:

Controlling weight

Obesity increases the chances of developing the disease—particularly in the knees—by putting extra stress on joints that bear much of the body's weight. For every pound gained, 3 pounds of pressure is exerted on the knees and even more pressure is added to the hips. In middle age, weight gain adds to the likelihood of developing OA in the next decade.

Likewise, weight loss reduces that likelihood. In one study, researchers concluded that the incidence of knee OA among elderly men would decrease by 22 percent if those who were obese (with a body mass index equal to or greater than 30) lost enough weight to fall into the overweight category (a BMI between 29.9 and 26) and those in the overweight category lost enough to move into the normal weight category (a BMI less than 26). Similar changes by women would result in a 33 percent decrease in knee OA. A number of studies have indicated that weight loss substantially reduces pain as well, in many cases as effectively as anti-inflammatory medications.

Avoiding injury

Be judicious about participating in contact sports or other high-impact activities, and about stressing a joint through overuse. Athletes and people who have jobs that call for repetitive bending motions can end up with small fractures or damage to the soft tissue of the joint, which increases the risk of developing OA.

Getting prompt medical treatment for injuries

Joint injuries are common, and easily ignored, when they are not severely and suddenly disabling. A strained knee, a jammed finger, a twisted back all can seem like part of life. But if the pain is severe and persists, it is important to see a physician. There may be more serious damage to the bones or soft tissue of the joint, and the doctor can immobilize the joint to prevent further damage as well as recommend therapy to speed the healing process. Quick attention to the problem may prevent future development of OA.

Arranging "joint friendly" work

Farmers have high rates of hip OA. Jackhammer operators have high rates in the elbow. Miners get OA in the knee and spine, and cotton mill workers get it in the hands. These occupations involve repetitive bending and stressing of the joints. It is not always possible to change the physical requirements of a job, but it is a wise precaution when it is feasible to arrange for assistance lifting objects, for example, or to minimize uncomfortable twisting or turning by altering workplace furniture.

Last reviewed on 7/21/09

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