Dr. Rajeev K. Sharma offers suggestions on how to prevent orthopaedic problems in the young.

Lack of physical activity, little exposure to sun, poor eating habits and lifestyle and a life full of stress… Most of us know that these are factors that lead to a host of lifestyle diseases like heart disease and hypertension.

But did you know that these could also cause weak bones and be responsible for the early onset of osteo-arthritis. And what is worse, it is the youngsters who are falling prey to orthopaedic problems as a result.

Increasingly, more people under 35 years of age are facing neck-, knee- or joint-related problems. The most common problems being knee pain due to early onset of osteo-arthritis and neck pain primarily because of sitting in front of computers and televisions for a long time.

All this points to the fact that something is wrong with the way we are living. Hectic schedules and endless tasks leave little time to bask in the sun, to take an evening walk, or just do some simple stretches. We push all these for some other time. But that time never comes.

Whenever a young patient complaining of joint or neck pain is asked about the work patterns or lifestyle, almost all seem to lack physical activity and exposure to the sun. They spend long hours sitting in the same position, mostly in a wrong posture, at office and do not realise the importance of motion for the joints. Walking or cycling to work is no longer viable and, once they return home, they spend the remaining hours watching television.

Osteoarthritis involves degradation of the joints due to loss of cartilage. This may cause stiffness, locking or pain. When the cartilage around the bone wears out, it leaves the joint vulnerable to damage.

Osteoporosis is characterised by low bone mass that increases bone fragility and raises a person’s susceptibility to fracture. Lack of exercise and physical activity is the main reason for weak bones and early joint-related problems.

Bone is a living tissue that keeps growing constantly. Old bone tissue is continually replaced by new but the process slows down by the age of 30. In people with poor calcium intake, low sun exposure, exposure to polluted water and adulterated food products and sedentary lifestyle bone depletion starts early.

A review article published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research some years ago expressed concern over bone health in India and identified vitamin D deficiency as a major factor for this problem. Poor exposure to sunlight, skin pigmentation and a vitamin D-deficient diet were identified as some of the reasons and the study highlighted the need to create awareness about this issue.

This primarily entails identifying and involving all those who can play a role in bringing about a behavioural change like intake of a calcium and vitamin D-rich diet and exposure to sunlight right from childhood. These decision makers may be fitness trainers at schools, health practitioners in hospitals, fitness counsellors at healthcare centres and even parents.

Youngsters should be motivated and educated to adopt a healthy diet and lifestyle. Education is a must, but for the health and overall development of youngsters sports should also be given importance in our education system. Sports not only benefits them in maintaining good health but also inculcates leadership qualities and also gives them self-confidence.

Doctors could contribute by making it a point to underline the importance of physical activity, balanced diet and sun exposure, while counselling patients. When it comes to bone health, prevention is the best option.

Keep bones he althy

Include adequate amount of calcium in the diet. Milk and dairy products have plenty of it.

Pay attention to vitamin D. Body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Good sources include fish, egg yolk

and fortified milk. Sunlight also contributes to the body's production of vitamin D

Include physical activity in your daily routine. Motion is the lotion for joints; walking, jogging, and

playing can help strengthen your bones and joints

Avoid substance abuse. Don't smoke and avoid excess alcohol.