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Sometimes surgery is unavoidable. Each year doctors in the U.S. perform 270,000 knee replacements and 170,000 hip replacements. So many patients have benefited that a lot of people, like Mike Ditka, 63, the Chicago Bears' Hall of Fame tight end, have had both hips replaced. To keep his new joints in good condition, Ditka works out daily. "As you get older," he says, "whatever the complications are, they're going to become magnified a hundred times if you don't exercise."
No single approach works best for everyone. As researchers learn more about what triggers osteoarthritis, they're bound to come up with more effective treatments. As with any chronic condition, there are always some things you can't control. But there's still a lot you can do for yourself. So pay attention to those twinges. Someday, you'll be glad you did. --With reporting by Noah Isackson/Chicago, Constance E. Richards/Asheville and Sean Scully/Los Angeles