Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative condition of the spine where the shock-absorbing disks between the vertebrae wear out over time due to misuse (or improper use). Repetitive motion can also contribute to wear and tear on the disks. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 28% of people over 60 worldwide show signs of OA. This disease can cause pain that ranges from mild to debilitating, but there are ways to help prevent osteoarthritis and thus avoid the back pain it can cause.

Get a move on it

Obesity is a major cause of osteoarthritis; excessive weight causes the body to release chemicals that contribute to the degradation of spinal discs. Practicing load-bearing exercise that is appropriate for age and fitness level helps maintain physical condition and a healthy body weight, eases stress on the joints, and helps to protect the spine. Additionally, strengthening the muscles that support the spine (the back and abdominal muscles, specifically) keeps the back strong and lessens the burden on the spine itself.

Take a break

If you work in a job that requires repetitive motion or is heavily dependent on one side or another, take a break, or switch sides if at all possible. This will balance muscle use on either side of the body and ease pressure. Use a Bluetooth or earpiece for the phone, and strap your iPod to your upper arm or waist to avoid holding it in one position for too long.

Eat stinky

A study in 2010 found that onions, garlic, and leeks are alliums that inhibit the enzymes that cause joints to break down. Those participants who ate more of these flavorful veggies had lower levels of degeneration in their disks. On the non-smelly side of things, ginger has also been shown to reduce pain after exercise and help with inflammation, so enjoy a cup of ginger tea or include fresh ginger in a stir fry to get onions, garlic, and leeks at the same time.

Sit up

Practice perfect posture to lessen wear and tear. If you need to, add strength training to your workout to build up the muscles in your back and abdomen that are required for good posture. Good posture maintains the natural curves in your back while alleviating stress on joints. Your mom was right; posture matters!

Throw a berry on it

Anti-oxidants are powerful substances that help eliminate free radicals from the body and inhibit inflammation. So how does this help combat OA? Those who ate berries were found in a British study to have a lower incidence of osteoarthritis than those who didn’t. Plus, berries have fiber and pack a flavorful punch, a perfect combination to keep you full and help you maintain a healthy weight.

Osteoarthritis does not have to be a guarantee as you get older, and you can start to change your habits little by little to make a big difference. Where will you start?

Image by Ryan Weisgerber via Flickr

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