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Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that breaks down cartilage – the natural cushion inside your joints. The result is painful inflammation. If you have osteoarthritis – the most common type of arthritis – you have plenty of company. About 20 million Americans have the condition.

Everyone experiences joint wear and tear, but not everyone develops the painful symptoms of osteoarthritis. Follow a few basic tips from PM&R physicians, and you can increase your odds of keeping your joints pain free. Joint self-repair Catch the condition when joint pain first begins, and you might be able to halt the progression of osteoarthritis. The right treatment plan can boost your body’s natural self-repair process.

Here’s how self-repair works: When you take a step, your moving body puts pressure on your joints, especially the knees and hips. Most of the impact, which is equal to about three or four times your body weight, is absorbed by joint cartilage. Movement first compresses and then releases the joint, squeezing water and nutrient-rich fluids in and out of the cartilage. This fluid exchange, which keeps joints lubricated and resilient, also promotes self-repair. Enjoying the benefits of physical activity The movement that allows your joints to become lubricated also helps lessen pain. Exercise also improves joint health by helping you shed excess weight and strengthening muscles.

But if you have joint pain, exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing. A physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) physician can help.

© 2014 American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation