What is arthritis?
Arthritis literally means joint inflammation. There are many different types of arthritis from those that solely affect the joints to others that can also affect other organs such as the eyes, heart or skin. Fortunately current treatments and good management allows most people to lead active and productive lives.
What types of arthritis are there?
The most common are:
- Osteoarthritis – this is the most common form and often known as the “wear and tear” arthritis that comes with age commonly affecting the fingers, hips and knees, but it is not inevitable. The smooth cartilage in the joints gets cracked and worn causing pain and the joint edges can thicken restricting movement. It can run in families and can occur earlier in a joint that has had a previous injury. Being overweight can also have a greater loading effect on the joints and make them more symptomatic sooner.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – this is an auto-immune disorder i.e. a condition in which our immune system, which normally protects us from infection, actually turns on itself and attacks the joints causing swelling, redness and pain. It can make you feel unwell and fatigued. For some people it can be short lived and cause little long term problems, for others it can be a lifetime of acute attacks and remissions which needs careful management.
- Gout – is a type of inflammatory arthritis caused by a build up of uric acid crystals in the joints. Acute attacks can occur most commonly affecting the big toe causing heat swelling and pain in the joints which can be excruciatingly painful and disabling and even the lightest of touches on the affected joint eg a sheet can feel unbearable. It is more common in men and older women and can run in families.
- Ankylosing Spondylitis – inflammation occurs in the spine where the ligaments attach onto the bones and calcium is laid causing extra bone to grow and this can cause severe stiffening and at times fusion of the vertebrae (spinal bones) and cause pain and restricted movement. It starts in the joints between the spine and pelvis and can spread upwards to the neck and in certain people affect other parts of the body including hips knees wrists or ankles, tendons and eyes.
- Psoriatic Arthritis – can occur if you have psoriasis (scaly red and white patches on the skin). Along with the skin in some sufferers it can also affect the joints and areas where tissues attach to bone
- Juvenile Arthritis – is an auto immune condition occuring in children under the age of 16
- Reactive Arthritis – this is caused by an infection and often associated swollen eyes and inflamed urinary tract
Arthritis can also occur with other conditions. These include:
- Lupus – an auto -immune disorder causing damage to the joints, skin, kidneys and other organs
- Post Viral Arthritis – triggered by a viral infection. This is usually self limiting
- Enteropathic Arthritis – associated with inflammatory bowel disease
How can you help yourself?
Whilst the different types of arthritis have different causes and may affect different joints, they all share the common symptoms of pain, stiffness and restricted movement and can all be helped by good self help and management.
- Exercise helps keep the mobility in the joints and reduces stiffness and pain and can help reduce the risk of putting on weight which can cause more pain by overloading the inflamed joints. When a joint is particularly inflamed eg with gout or an acute episode of rheumatoid arthritis then exercise may need to be modified until the inflammation is better controlled but with osteoarthritis it is really important to keep the joints active on a regular basis.
- A good varied diet which will also keep weight in control is also important to maintain optimum joint health and healing. There is some evidence that certain supplements such as fish oils and curcumin (turmeric) can help reduce inflammation
- Making sure you get good sleep, keep stress low and have good social interactions can also help keep pain at more manageable levels
- Book in to see me at my practice so that I can give you tailored advice on appropriate exercises and some hands on treatment and massage to release muscular tension around the affected joints to help improve movement and reduce your pain.