Dr. Chris Renna explains the common symptoms associated with osteoarthritis and why it seems that women suffer from it more often than men
Dr. Renna: Everyone realizes they have osteoarthritis in their own time, in their own way but the classic symptoms are joint pain and stiffness, and the stiffness is often greater in the morning than it is as the day goes on.
The pain might not be what you think of as pain. It might just be an ache or a soreness. It may even register to you as a tiredness, you know, you have a tiredness in your neck or your hands are just tired. And that’s how you may describe it, but basically that’s because you’ve got access inflammation damaging the joint tissue, the cartilage in the joint and the investing tissues that surround the joint. So the classic symptoms are soreness, stiffness and pain of the joint.
Women do suffer from it more often than men, particularly in their hands, and they also suffer from it in other joints more than men. Perhaps the modifying factor that gives men almost the neck-in-neck competition in having osteoarthritis is that trauma, being overweight, and aging predisposed osteoarthritis.
Now that’s really important because when I was in medical school and throughout the majority of my career, that’s what I was taught were the causes of osteoarthritis. The actual causes Dr. Wehling identified of osteoarthritis and lower back pain is excess inflammation created by a certain protein and if you are able to block the effect of that protein you can block the inflammation, you can slow down the progression of the disease and relieve the symptoms.
But women often have osteoarthritis of their hands. They have it in their weight-bearing joints and in their back and maybe more so because women are supported in their complexity by estrogen throughout their lifetime. And as estrogen levels decline, either in perimenopause, menopause or in surgically induced conditions, as those estrogen levels decline they don’t have that same protection and support in that very complex system that is every female begins to come apart. And one of the ways it comes apart is an increasing pain from osteoarthritis - the three things that women can do to prevent osteoarthritis, really important.
In the appendix of our book ‘The end of pain’ I wrote the majority of that work, the majority of those chapters and it goes into four things, but the three things that women can do to prevent osteoarthritis are to eat the best diet possible because the best diet for each individual female is going to optimize their body composition.
In other words, if they eat an anti-inflammatory or low-inflammatory diet, if they take out processed foods or minimize processed foods, if they take out the white stuff – white sugar, white flour, dairy products, and that’s controversial for some women but it’s my belief that if they don’t eat dairy products they will have less inflammation in their diet and they will be able to maintain a healthier body weight. A healthier body weight will put less weight on those joints and it will also be a body that is less inflamed.
So number one is best diet possible. Number two is exercise. A vast majority of women that I know are too busy and it’s very difficult for them in their business and in their caretaking of everyone else and all the details of everyone else’s needs, even the details of their own needs, which can sort of tie them up at times– very difficult to make time for something as challenging for some women as exercise, but it’s absolutely essential.
So what you eat first, how often and how you move, second. You can choose your own and should customize it. It could be Yoga, it could be Pilates, it could be speed-walking, it could be group-walking, it could be swimming, it could be bicycling – stationary or mobile, you have to try them yourself to find out what’s best for your body, to which do you respond best, and that’s true exercise.
And third, which I might have put first actually is sleep. And that’s a very difficult subject for a lot of women, especially those who are seeing a decline in their estrogen levels because their brain doesn’t really know what’s going on either when their estrogen is going down, and their brain is a problem-solving organ so it wants to stay awake and conscious or at the first opportunity, wake up again and figure out ‘what’s happening to me.’
So sleeping is a very important part of avoiding the conditions of excess inflammation, one of which is osteoarthritis. It is essential to be able to exercise, move freely and to sleep well in the process of avoiding disease.
If you want to stay healthy you have to exercise, move comfortably and sleep well, and with osteoarthritis, many times you can’t.