AltaMed showing arthritis on hands

All About Arthritis

Our bodies are amazing machines that outperform and outlast even the most advanced technology. But like a car or a washing machine, over time, things in our body break down. For some of us, it’s our joints and the tissues that hold them together – otherwise known as arthritis.

Arthritis isn’t just one type of pain or problem: in fact, there are more than 100 different types of arthritis that affect the joints, the tissues around the joint, and other connective tissue of the body.

The most common types of arthritis in adults includes:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA) is usually thought of as “wear and tear” arthritis and most frequently occurs in the hands, knees, and hips. It is often caused by injury, overuse, or repetitive stress on a joint.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a condition in which your immune system attacks healthy cells, producing painful inflammation. RA sufferers commonly experience pain in their hands, wrists, and knees, but RA can also affect the lungs, heart, and eyes.
  • Fibromyalgia is a form of arthritis where pain doesn’t just affect one or two places in the body – it can produce pain and stiffness all over the body, along with a general feeling of being “run down” or tired.
  • Gout is another form of arthritis that causes intense pain and usually affects only one joint at a time – most commonly, the big toe. Because of this, people with gout sometimes experience difficulty walking.

Who Gets Arthritis?

Arthritis is most frequently seen in adults over the age of 65, but it can also develop in children, teens, and younger adults.

Senior Woman With Arthritis

Women are slightly more likely to suffer from arthritis than men – about one in four women have been diagnosed, compared to roughly one in five men. Some of the reasons for this are related to hormones; while some are related to the fact that, statistically speaking, women are more likely to be overweight or obese, which is a significant risk factor.

Bitten Donut

Those carrying extra weight are at higher risk for arthritis. Quite simply, the more weight that’s put on a joint, the more stressed it becomes. In fact, every pound of extra weight translates into 4 pounds of extra pressure on your knees. So if you’re 50 pounds overweight, you’re forcing 200 extra pounds of pressure on your knees. Additionally, fat itself can trigger inflammation in the body, making both OA and RA worse.

Woman Smoking

Smokers have increased risks for both RA and OA. In addition, they suffer worse pain than non-smokers; and, in the event they need joint replacement surgery, smokers have higher rates of complication and worse outcomes, compared to nonsmokers.

How Arthritis Differs from Other Aches and Pains

Woman Holding Knee in Pain

Unfortunately, as we age, many of us don’t feel as energetic as we once did, and our bodies may be slower to recuperate from exercise, stress, or fatigue. There are a few telltale signs that indicate it might be something more than just ‘overdoing it:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Warmth or heat in the area of the affected joint
  • Rash near the affected joint
  • Grinding sensation
  • Fever

Unlike muscle strain or fatigue, arthritis doesn’t just go away: in fact, undiagnosed and untreated arthritis can result in permanent changes and damage to your joints.
If you have some of the joint symptoms described above that last for three days or more, or several different episodes of joint pain within a month, go see a doctor. Start with your general practitioner or family doctor; after which you may be referred to a specialist called a rheumatologist.

Treatments for Arthritis

Senior Woman Getting Physical Therapy

Because there are so many different types of arthritis, there are different ways to treat it. Treatment usually focuses on self-care and lifestyle changes. Your doctor may recommend a home care program or send you to physical therapy.

Arthritis treatment may include medication, such as over-the-counter pain relievers, but some patients may require doctor-prescribed medication to help deal with pain or suppress inflammation. Those with advanced cases of arthritis may need to take medication that protect the joints or strengthen the bones.

In advanced cases, surgery to replace the affected joints (typically the knee or hip) is an option. The good news is that these surgeries have very high success rates, and the artificial joints can last a lifetime.

Protecting Yourself from Arthritis

Senior Woman Running on the Street

Like many other conditions, arthritis is something that runs in families. But there are steps you can take to cut your risk for developing this painful condition.

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Stop smoking
  • Eat a healthful diet
  • If you have gout, eat chicken and healthy fish instead of beef, pork, and organ meats
  • Avoid (excessive consumption of) alcohol
  • Keep moving! Even a little exercise can be enough to keep you flexible and energized and avoiding exercise can leave you feeling stiff or weak. If you’ve never exercised or haven’t exercised in a while, check with your doctor first.

If you have pain that you think may be arthritis, talk to your doctor sooner rather than later. If you catch it in the early stages, your doctor can suggest some simple lifestyle changes that can keep you moving and feeling healthy for years to come. If you don’t already have a doctor, find your nearest AltaMed location and give them a call.

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AltaMed man and women riding bikes by the beach

Outdoor Activities You Can Do All Year Long

Quick, think of five things you love about Southern California. If you’re anything like us, the warm, sunny weather probably made your list. While the rest of the country braces for a long, snowy winter, Angelenos can stay healthy and active, January through December. Check out these fun outdoor activities you and your family can enjoy all year long.

Go Swimming

Little Girl Swimming Under Water

During months when it’s too cold for taking a dip in the ocean, try visiting one of LA’s public or year-round swimming pools. Swimming offers a whole-body workout with no impact on your joints, and many people enjoy swimming well into their senior years. Some facilities offer other activities, such as water fitness, aqua aerobics, and even land-based classes like yoga and Zumba. The City of Los Angeles has 16-year round pools, and adults can show their Los Angeles library cards to get $1.50 off with every visit.

Take a Hike

Three People Jumping On Rocks Having Fun

Thanks to SoCal’s mild winter months, hiking is excellent cardio, no gym required. Beginners have plenty of options such as walking trails in Elysian Park (behind Dodger Stadium) and the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, where you can enjoy incredible, panoramic views of Los Angeles! Together, Griffith Park and the San Gabriel Mountains offer hundreds of miles of trails, with hikes that range from easy and family-friendly to challenging, all-day treks. Be sure to check the weather forecast ahead of time and dress in comfortable, removable layers.

Join a Sports Team

Guys Playing Soccer

Feeling a little competitive? Try joining a year-round sports league. There are organized outings for many popular sports including soccer, basketball, or baseball, that meet and play every month. Looking to try something new? There are leagues for all kinds of skill levels, so you can learn and have fun at the same time. Playing sports is a fantastic way to burn calories and build muscle, so you’ll stay active and healthy.

Explore a Farmers Market

Mom and Daughter Exploring a Farmers Market

Farmers markets are a fun way to spend a weekend morning and get some steps in. Many markets, like the Farmer’s Market at Bank of America Plaza in Downtown LA and the East Los Angeles Farmers Market, run year-round, so you can stay fully stocked on healthy ingredients. Take time to walk the entirety of the market and explore stalls of colorful, seasonal produce, canned goods, prepared foods, and more! Look online to see local markets in your area. Loaded up on fresh foods? Check out some of AltaMed’s easy recipe ideas.

Get Moving with Your Furry Friend

Woman Frolicking with a Bunch of Dogs in the Grass

No matter the time of year, dogs need to get outside and get moving. If you live in an apartment or don’t always have time to walk your dog twice a day, check out the local dog parks in your area. Both you and your dog will get great exercise walking around and enjoying the outdoors. Remember to come prepared with doggie bags and a leash. Ready for a walk? Try the Arts District Dog Park in Downtown LA, or the Bone Yard in Culver City, considered two of the best dog parks around.

Get Moving and Have Fun!

Young Family Walking on the Beach

Staying active all year round is important for your long-term health. Thanks to Southern California’s great weather, finding fun outdoor activities is easy. Invite friends along or take the family, and you’ll find activities to look forward to for years to come. Want to learn more? Check out these other great ideas for staying active and healthy.

back pain ache

Back Pain Basics and Prevention

"Ow, my aching back!”

So you overdid it, playing with your kids. Or you lugged a heavy object up the stairs, or you tried a new machine at the gym. The next day, your lower back hurts so much, you don’t even think you can get out of bed.

Sound familiar?

About 80% of people experience back pain at some point during their lives. Back pain is an equal opportunity afflicter, striking both men and women. The good news is that most back pain is temporary, lasting just a few days (even if those few days are agonizing).

There are many different causes of back pain, and many different types of back pain. We’re going to go over some of the basics, including what to do when it strikes and how you can hopefully prevent it from coming back.

Causes of Back Pain

Woman Carrying a Box

Most low back pain is caused when the structures of your back (the bony parts of the spine, the muscles that protect it, the discs, and the nerves that flow through them) aren’t working together correctly. During our daily routines, we often ask weak muscles to work harder than they should. This can result in sprains or strains, which can cause painful back spasms.

Another common cause of back pain comes from your intervertebral discs. These are the jelly-like ‘shock absorbers’ that fit between your vertebra. As we age, these discs become dried out and degenerate, so they don’t provide the cushioning they once did. These discs can also rupture or bulge, which also causes pain.

Less frequently, back pain is caused by compression of the nerves that enter and exit your spine. Back pain can also be caused by abnormalities of the spine or degenerative changes to the spinal column.

When You Should See a Doctor

Female Doctor With X-ray

No two cases of back pain are the same. When your back pain is caused from the strain of “overdoing it,” you may have pain that lasts a few days or even weeks, then goes away on its own or with a little help from a heating pad, rest, and some Tylenol. If your back pain lasts for longer than six weeks, you should see the doctor.

In some cases, back pain can be very serious, or the sign of a serious condition. Here’s when you should seek out a doctor or go to the emergency room immediately:

  • Severe back pain after trauma such as a fall down the stairs or a car accident
  • When you have sudden back pain, and also loss of control of your bladder and bowels

Other cases aren’t so serious that they need emergency care, but you should see your regular doctor as soon as possible if you experience back pain accompanied by:

  • Numbness and tingling
  • Night pain
  • Foot drop (when you suddenly can’t pick your foot or toes off the ground)

If you’re not sure of whether or not to see a doctor, call AltaMed’s Nurse Advice Line at (866) 266-5092 to speak with a registered nurse who will ask questions and give you advice on your next steps.

Proactive Steps to Prevent Back Pain

Senior Doing Exercise

Once you’re back to normal, consider taking steps to protect your back and prevent another episode of back pain. You may not be able to do anything about the aging process, but there are plenty of other steps you can take to build a healthy back.

Maintain a Healthful Weight

To put it in very simple terms, the less weight your back has to support, the better it works. If you’re overweight, talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes that you can make to achieve a goal weight.

Learn How to Move

Your doctor may give you a home exercise program or prescribe physical therapy to help strengthen and stretch your muscles. Don’t worry, you won’t have to do endless sit-ups or work up a sweat: most of the time, physical therapy emphasizes gentle stretches and simple moves that strengthen the muscles in your back, abdomen, and legs.

Eat a Healthy Diet

  • Spices such as ginger, turmeric, and cayenne fight pain-causing inflammation in your body. In a way, the effects are similar to taking aspirin or ibuprofen, but they happen over time, not immediately.
  • On the other hand, sugar, too much alcohol, and the processed carbohydrates found in foods like bread, pastries, and cereals promote inflammation. Cutting back on these foods could have a positive, long-term effect on you back.
  • Healthy fats from nuts, fish, and avocados will support pain-free movement of your joints.

You don’t have to do it all at once. Make little changes and watch them all add up. Your back (and the rest of your body) will thank you!

All About Arthritis