When we think of arthritis, we think of an older person with a crooked back, spindly, deformed hands and swollen knees. Certainly, older people are at risk for the most common form of arthritis-osteoarthritis. What this means is that not only are the joints painful, the bones, which make up the joints are no longer smooth and straight.

These bones become irregular and narrow the joint space. Add to that a reduced amount of cartilage, which protects the bones and Houston we have a problem. Movement often makes this type of arthritis worse, while rest helps.

What causes osteoarthritis? Well, being born with the wrong set of genes certainly doesn’t help. Genes produce substances which regulate bony growth and remodeling. As we age, so too do the genes and errors crop up. Also, certain genes are silent during early life, only to wake up and start something bad or good later.

Other conditions such as thinning of the bone or osteoporosis and obesity can bring on arthritis. So too can doing the same thing over and over again such as carpet layers, who develop knee cap problems or factory line workers, who if they use their hands to complete one task, often suffer from hand and wrist arthritis.

The jury is out as to whether running causes hip and knee arthritis. Most likely, if runners use the correct technique, the weight loss and muscle build up will protect them from arthritis. However, if you, in any weight bearing sport, don’t move the way your body intended you to, you will stress your joints. Lack of exercise also makes matters worse, as this leads to weight gain and poor posture.

What works for arthritis are gentle stretches, and exercises. Stretching and working out in the water is one way to exercise without the impact of say running. Biking is also a low impact sport. Medications such as Ibuprofen, Aspirin or Naprosyn work by reducing joint inflammations. Tylenol may help with the pain. Weight loss, if you overweight, will help quite a bit. Try to stay clear of narcotics such as Vicodin, Percocet or Morphine as these can cause more problems-some deadly- and therefore in most cases are not worth the risk.

Down the road some may benefit from the occasional  local steroid injection into the involved joint. Surgery such as joint replacement is an option, but you should think of this as a last resort.