For some people, their joints do wear out. Most often it’s caused by a form of arthritis called osteoarthritis, or OA.

Most people have heard of arthritis. It means inflammation or swelling. There are over 100 different kinds, but osteoarthritis is the most common. It affects an estimated three million Canadians.

OA starts when the strong elastic material, called cartilage, which covers the ends of our joints, begins to breakdown. Healthy cartilage is shiny, white and smooth. (If it sounds unfamiliar, you can see it on the ends of chicken bones.)

Cartilage absorbs impact on the bones from activities such as running or jumping, and protects bones from damage. Together with a fluid-filled sac surrounding the joint, cartilage helps joints move without damage – a bit like the engine oil around the valves in a car engine.

When you have osteoarthritis, your cartilage wears out; the surface roughens and doesn’t absorb shock well. The bones on each end of the joint no longer move smoothly, leading to pain and swelling. Also, your joints will get stiff when you’re sleeping at night.

Like any disease there are risk factors that may lead to osteoarthritis. They include: a family history of OA, your age (OA is more common as you get older), carrying extra body weight, and previous injuries that have damaged the joint.

Some people get arthritis in one or two joints. Others get it in many joints. Like ordering a new part for your car, there are cases where you can get a new joint.

However, in the human body, as with a classic car, the best parts are still the originals.

It’s best to look after your joints for as long as you can, just as you do with your vehicle.

Here are some of the main ways you can help make your joints last:

Maintain a healthy weight and eat well.

Stay active! Avoid activities that stress the joint. Walk, swim or bike instead of running.

Keep moving the joint. Gentle movement of the joint will help to keep muscles stretched out and not add stress to the joint.

Use heat to warm up a stiff joint, and ice to decrease joint swelling.

Take medications prescribed by your doctor to reduce the pain and swelling.

Use assistive devices such as walking poles, a cane or walker to help take stress off the joints.

A raised toilet makes it easier to get off the toilet. Raised garden beds or a low stool will make gardening easier.

Even after following these steps, though, pain and movement limitations may be too much. A joint replacement is the final option and, even then, not everyone may be able to have one.

Replacements have about a 15-year lifespan and some activities are limited after a replacement.

In the last 10 years the number of hip and knee replacements in Canada has doubled. Knee, shoulder and hand joint replacements are now done in Whitehorse.

Physiotherapists are an important part of the health care team in helping prevent further joint damage and assisting clients to maintain their abilities before and after joint replacements.

For people who want to know more about arthritis, there are six sessions starting November 1, on Tuesdays, at the Whitehorse General Hospital Boardroom.

The sessions are run by health professionals including:

An orthopaedic surgeon who performs hip and knee replacements;

A physiotherapist who discusses keeping active;

A dietician on healthy eating;

A nurse (a specialist on chronic pain and an occupational therapist) who has tips on decreasing the stresses on your joints in day-to-day activities;

A pharmacist with knowledge about medications;

A rheumatologist who is a specialist in arthritis.

For more information or to preregister, contact Lee, the Specialist Clinic RN, at 393-8937.