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8 Things Pain Doctors Do to Never Get Arthritis

Rheumatologists and other pain management doctors offer the healthy habits they follow to avoid arthritis pain, from an anti-inflammatory diet to yoga.

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What pain doctors do to avoid arthritis

People think of arthritis as an older person’s concern, but what you do in your youth can play a large role in your arthritis risk down the road. The condition, characterized by joint pain and stiffness, affects about 54.4 million U.S. adults annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yes, there are causes of arthritis you can’t control, such as family history and increasing age. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to delay or avoid this chronic issue. Here’s what doctors do to protect their joints.

‘I maintain a healthy digestive system’

“Having plenty of good bacteria in your gut can help reduce the pain and inflammation from arthritis. A healthy gut means that your microbiome is robust and diverse so it can do its job protecting your intestinal lining from getting damaged. Damage can happen from food, toxins, stress, and medication. This can lead to a condition called leaky gut syndrome, which triggers inflammation all over the body—especially in your joints. Happy gut bacteria are the key to happy joints!” —Susan Blum, MD, founder and director of Blum Center for Health and author of two books on arthritis 

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‘I lift weights’

“It may seem counterintuitive—how can lifting more weight make joint pain better? Wouldn’t that stress the joints even more? But muscle mass is key for preventing osteoarthritis and ameliorating any pain. By strengthening the muscles around the joints you will help take some of the load off thereby keeping joints healthy.” —Megan R. Williams Khmelev, MD, osteoarthritis specialist and owner of Elemental Weight Loss Clinic, San Antonio

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‘I eat an anti-inflammatory diet’

“Inflammation, both in the joints and throughout the body, means painful arthritis symptoms. But you can reduce inflammation through diet by avoiding antibiotics and eating lots of cultured foods like yogurt or fermented vegetables like sauerkraut. In addition, eat very little refined sugar and focus on eating good fats like nuts, seeds, avocado, and fatty fish.” —Dr. Blum. 

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‘I do yoga’

“To avoid osteoarthritis, also known as the ‘wear and tear arthritis,’ it’s important to keep muscles and joints flexible and strong. I like exercises like yoga, Pilates, and martial arts that help strengthen the muscles around the joint. They also help the joint move in a full range of motion.” —Ed Levitan, MD, physician, Five Journeys, Newton, Massachusetts 

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‘I watch my weight’

“When it comes to avoiding osteoarthritis, the most common type, losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight is the largest factor for most Americans. Because osteoarthritis is caused by bone grinding on bone, anything you can do to avoid mechanical stress will help. And any extra weight you have puts extra stress on your bones and joints.” —Jordan Tishler, MD, a Harvard emergency physician and founder of InhaleMD, Brookline/Cambridge, Massachusetts

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‘I avoid alcohol and tobacco’

“There are more than 100 types of arthritis and joint-related conditions. Some risk factors are not modifiable (e.g., gender and genetics), but there are a few things you can do to lessen your risk. Not smoking [or quitting smoking] reduces the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis while eating a low-purine diet and avoiding alcohol reduces the risk of developing gout—two of the most common types of arthritis.” —Don R. Martin, MD, a rheumatologist with Sentara RMH Rheumatology, Harrisonburg, Virginia 

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‘I practice tai chi’

“Gentle stretching programs like Tai Chi keep your joints moving and help to nourish cartilage. Make sure that you are stretching your hands as well during the movements. The hand is the third most common place to get symptomatic arthritis and stretching can prevent aggravation.” —A. Lee Osterman, MD, president of The Philadelphia Hand Center and Professor, Orthopedic Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University

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‘I get injuries treated as soon as they happen’

“The most important recommendation to prevent arthritis is to have all injuries evaluated as soon as they occur. Repetitive trauma to a joint can result in arthritis, ballerinas get ankle arthritis, and weight lifters get back arthritis. To prevent cartilage and bone damage get quick treatment, physical therapy, appropriate exercise, lose weight (if necessary) and causal treatment.” —Anca Askanase, MD, rheumatologist and director of rheumatology clinical trials at Columbia University Medical Center, New York City. Watch out for these arthritis symptoms you could be missing.

Sources
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Arthritis-Related Statistics"
  • Susan Blum, MD, founder and director of Blum Center for Health and author of two books on arthritis
  • Megan R. Williams Khmelev, MD, osteoarthritis specialist and owner of Elemental Weight Loss Clinic, San Antonio
  • Ed Levitan, MD, physician, Five Journeys, Newton, Massachusetts 
  • Jordan Tishler, MD, a Harvard emergency physician and founder of InhaleMD, Brookline/Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Don R. Martin, MD, a rheumatologist with Sentara RMH Rheumatology, Harrisonburg, Virginia.
  • A. Lee Osterman, MD, president of The Philadelphia Hand Center and Professor, Orthopedic Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University
  • Anca Askanase, MD, rheumatologist and director of rheumatology clinical trials at Columbia University Medical Center, New York City

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen has been covering health and fitness for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 13 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She teaches fitness classes in her spare time. She lives in Denver with her husband, four children, and three pets.