Can you prevent arthritis?
Arthritis is a common condition that affects many adults in the United States. It can cause stiffness and pain in the tissues surrounding your joints. There are over 100 types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), each with various causes that can affect different parts of the body.
There’s no way to prevent arthritis. But there are steps you can take to lower your risk of developing the condition and help slow symptom progression.
These steps include lifestyle adaptations, like maintaining a moderate weight, which can help reduce inflammation and stress on the joints.
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article uses the terms “women” and “men” when discussing people assigned female or male at birth to reflect language that appears in source materials.
While gender is solely about how you identify yourself, independent of your physical body, you may need to consider how your personal circumstances will affect diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment. Learn more about the difference between sex and gender here.
Can you prevent arthritis?
There’s no definite way to prevent arthritis development. But there are specific ways to help lower your risk.
Various types of arthritis have different causes and risk factors, and you cannot prevent some of them, like age and family history. But depending on the arthritis type, you can take some steps to help avoid the condition.
Some types of arthritis include:
- Osteoarthritis (OA): This is the breakdown of cartilage around your joints, causing pain during movement.
- Gout: This arthritis type sees uric acid crystals developing around and within your joints and in synovial fluid, causing pain. Synovial fluid is the fluid found in synovial joints — joints surrounded by thick membranes.
- Psoriatic arthritis: This is an autoimmune condition where inflammation affects your tendons and ligaments.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): This is also an autoimmune condition that develops when your body’s immune system attacks your joints.
Researchers do not yet fully understand how these conditions develop, meaning that prevention may not currently be possible.
Risk factors of arthritis
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are several risk factors for arthritis, like:
- Age: Your risk of arthritis increases as you get older.
- Sex: Females are more likely to develop OA and RA, while men are more likely to develop gout.
- Family history: Being born with certain genes may put you at higher risk of developing different types of arthritis.
- Higher body mass index (BMI): Excess weight can increase joint pressure and worsen symptoms.
The exact treatment a doctor may prescribe depends on the type of arthritis you have.
However, all treatments will aim to lower your pain and help slow down or prevent symptom progression. Typically, a combination of physical therapy, natural remedies, and medications can help reduce symptoms.
Osteoarthritis is the most common arthritis type. Treatments typically involve keeping the joints mobile. If your symptoms are severe and your joint is severely damaged, a doctor may recommend surgery to replace it.
Doctors will also recommend pain management and anti-inflammatory medications, like:
- Corticosteroids: These medications mimic the naturally occurring hormone cortisol. A doctor may inject this directly into your joint, or you may take it orally as a tablet. Examples include example prednisolone (Millipred) and methylprednisolone (Medrol).
- Hyaluronic acid (HA): Injections of HA can help reduce pain and improve joint movement. Examples include the brand-name drugs Euflexxa and Hyalgan.
- Analgesics: These medications can help lower pain levels, and they include acetaminophen (Acephen) and ibuprofen (Advil).
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The main goal of treating RA is to help reduce inflammation, slow disease progression, and prevent joint damage.
Medications for RA may include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): If you take low doses of NSAIDs, they’re effective pain relievers. At high doses, they can help keep inflammation levels down. A common example is naproxen (Aleve).
- Biologics: These medications target specific proteins involved in your body’s immune response, which helps reduce inflammation in your joints. A common example is etanercept (Enbrel).
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs): These medications help stop your immune system from attacking your joints, which prevents damage. They include hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) and methotrexate (Trexall).
- Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors: These medications work by inhibiting the Janus kinase/signal transduction and transcription activation (JAK/STAT) pathways. These pathways are responsible for many different functions, including immune cell development and RA symptoms. They include tofacitinib (Xeljanz) and upadacitinib (Rinvoq).
Some lifestyle factors may help lower your risk of developing arthritis and stop any existing symptoms from worsening.
According to the CDC, these include:
- Quitting smoking (if applicable): Smoking can increase excess inflammation levels and worsen your risk of RA and other health conditions. If you have a family history of RA and smoking, you might consider quitting.
- Maintaining a moderate weight: If you have a higher BMI, you’re more likely to develop osteoarthritis due to the extra stress on your joints. Your knees and hips are more likely to be affected. Eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly can help you maintain a moderate weight.
- Protecting your joints from injury: Joint injuries, such as from repetitive use or trauma, can cause osteoarthritis. Maintaining muscular strength in your joints can help prevent joint stress.
- Looking out for infections: Seeking treatment at the first sign of an infection is important for preventing joint damage.
There are many different types of arthritis with varying causes. Depending on the cause, you can take certain steps to help lower your risk of developing arthritis.
There are some risk factors you cannot change, such as your age and sex. But other factors that you can manage with lifestyle adaptations include:
- your BMI
- whether you smoke
- joint health
- infection management
A variety of medications are also available to help treat arthritis and reduce your symptoms, such as NSAIDs and biologics.
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- How to reduce your risk of arthritis. (2021). https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/reduce-your-risk
- Migliore A, et al. (2015). Effectiveness and utility of hyaluronic acid in osteoarthritis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4469223/
- Osteoarthritis. (n.d.). https://www.arthritis.org/diseases/osteoarthritis
- Pan A, et al. (2023). Etanercept. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK545252/
- Risk factors. (2023). https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/risk-factors.htm
- Senthelal S, et al. (2023). Arthritis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK518992/
- Total joint replacement. (2021). https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/treatment/total-joint-replacement/