What do we mean by the term ‘arthritis’?
Arthritis refers to a painful condition of the joints, of which there are a number of types. ‘Osteoarthritis’ or OA as it is sometimes called is the most common form, with over half the population aged 50 and older having some signs of the condition . It is sometimes called ‘wear and tear’ arthritis and is most likely to occur in the hips and the knee. There is no obvious cause in the majority of people with OA. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory type of arthritis, where the body’s immune system appears to attack its own joints, making them stiff, progressively deformed and painful. The joints feel worse in the morning than later in the day and there may be periods of improvement that may then be followed by a relapse. women are three more times at risk of developing RA than men. The condition usually appears between the ages of 30 and 35 and it may be partly passed on down a family line although the exact cause remains unclear. Arthritis can also be caused by repeated small injuries such as in athletes, but the symptoms of painful joints remain the same.
How is arthritis usually treated?
Because every sufferer is different, treatment is tailored to the individual, although in severe arthritis effective treatment can be difficult to achieve. There are several different types of tablet medicines available such as anti-inflammatory painkillers, drugs that reduce the body’s ability to act against itself, and steroids, as well as injections and other non-medicinal aids such as joint supports or splints. Any medication needs to be regularly monitored by a doctor and regular blood tests are often required to check for side effects and to see how well the treatment is working. If all else fails, surgery may be offered if there is permanent deformity of a joint. .
Can anything else help?
Definitely. Although diet probably plays little part in the development or treatment of arthritis, it is sensible to eat as healthy a diet as possible, rich in fresh fruit and vegetables. It is also important for arthritis sufferers to keep their joints and muscles as active as possible. This may require physiotherapy or the help of occupational therapists who assess physical ability and provide help and advice including practical aids. Surgical joint replacement techniques continue to improve but not all joints can be replaced surgically.
Does staying positive help?
Yes it can. Although we are not sure why, arthritis patients with a positive mental attitude seem to be able to cope with their symptoms better than those who allow them to rule their lives. Support from family and friends also help here, and arthritis websites can be very helpful in allowing you to understand as much about this condition as possible.
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Are there ways I can help ease arthritis pain apart from taking tablets?
Yes, and these include learning about pain management and using treatment such as a TENS machine (Transcutaneous Nerve Stimulation device, which transmits a low-level electrical impulse). Some some people with arthritis find hypnosis useful too (only use a professionally-trained hypnotherapist). Look after your joints as best you can by keeping weight down, conserving energy, and taking low-impact exercise such as swimming.
How to guard against arthritis
Maintaining a healthy weight is very important since carrying extra weight adds extra pressure on the weight bearing joints such as the back, hips, and knees. Even losing a few pounds or kilograms can make a significant difference and by adopting a healthy diet alone you should lose weight. Cut out sugary and fatty foods and increase your consumption of healthy foods such as fruit, vegetables, pasta and oily fish. Reducing the size of the portions on your plate will also help you to lose weight as will cutting down on alcohol. Try to keep further damage to joints to a minimum so remember to pace yourself and your physical activity through the day and save harder tasks for later in the day when you might be feeling less stiff or sore. Avoid positions that make you stiff whenever you can and avoid being in one position for a long time. Balance activity with rest and make some practical changes at home to help. These can include gently pushing doors open with your shoulder rather than your hand, using both hands to carry shopping (or using a shoulder bag) and avoiding gripping things too tightly. Try to ‘shift rather than lift’ items and take regular breaks in the day to move around and stay supple.