Seema Rathore, 42, a spirited housewife ignored her paining knee joints for many months. Finally when she visited a doctor she was told she had severe osteoarthritis and would need surgery. Doctors say frequent squatting or sitting cross-legged, an Indian custom, could have worsened her condition.

“My knees would pain a lot when I walked or climbed stairs. At home, most of my chores require me to sit on the kitchen floor. Doctors told me that my constant squatting and sitting cross-legged could have resulted in the condition of my knees,” Ms. Rathore, a resident of Faridabad, told IANS.

Osteoarthritis is a common degenerative joint disease in the aged population where the surface of the joint gets damaged and the surrounding bone gets thicker.

Rathore’s doctor, R.K. Sharma, a senior consultant and joint replacement surgeon at Apollo Hospital, said: “She had full range of movement so she was not the typical arthritis case. Her left knee was severely deformed so we did a knee ortheoplasty. She is doing well now.”

Dr. Sharma said those who feel an inkling of joint pain, apart from watching their weight, should watch out for any deformity and avoid sitting cross-legged or squatting to avoid early onset of arthritis.

“Squatting and sitting cross-legged is a predominant Indian custom. This is especially bad for patients prone to arthritis,” he said.

Dr. Sharma said his patients, especially women in the 30-40 years age group, suffered most due to the tendency. However, he said, osteoarthritis was prevalent mostly among those above 60 years.

Other doctors echoed his views.

“For healthy individuals who exercise daily, squatting or sitting cross-legged may not cause problems, but it can in people who don’t exercise frequently but their lifestyle dictates that they should strain their knees -- in that case arthritis can be a result as it accelerates degeneration of the joint,” Harshvardhan Hegde, head of orthopaedics at the Artemis Health Institute, told IANS.

According to a World Health Organisation-International League of Associations for Rheumatology (WHO-ILAR) Community Oriented Programme for the Control of Rheumatic Disease (COPCORD) study, 15 per cent of the country’s population suffers from different types of arthritis.

The prevalence of osteoarthritis was seen in around 10 per cent of the people and over 30 per cent of those above the age of 60.

“Indian culture is such that squatting is unavoidable. Household chores or the Indian latrines involve acute bending of the knees, and pressure on the joint has potential to damage the joint at a young age. The impact is not seen immediately but the joint begins to wear out after a prolonged period of time,” Ashok Kumar, president of the Indian Rheumatology Association, told IANS.

According to the Arthritis Foundation of India Trust, osteoarthritis affects each person differently. In some people it progresses quickly; in others the symptoms are more serious.

Scientists do not yet know what causes the disease, but they suspect a combination of factors, including being overweight, the aging process, joint injury, and stress on the joints from certain jobs and sports activities.

Osteoarthritis most often occurs at the ends of the fingers, thumbs, neck, lower back, knees and hips.

To manage the condition doctors advise controlling body weight, eating healthy including intake of antioxidants Vitamin C, calcium and Vitamin D apart from taking medicines as prescribed by the doctor.

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