Arthritis is a general name given to over a 100 types of conditions affecting, joints, muscles and connective tissue. There are two main forms of arthritis; osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common, and is a degenerative disease that occurs when the cartilage between joints breaks down. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack the joints.
Arthritis is as old as the dinosaurs, literally. Evidence of ankle arthritis has been found in dinosaur fossils. The many forms of arthritis have plagues mankind for centuries, with the earliest traces being discovered in skeletal remains of Native Americans, dating back 4500 years.
The one thing all forms of arthritis have in common is pain. It is often described as the sensation of having “broken glass in my joints”. Osteoarthritis is normally localised to one area in the body initially. It often occurs in the knees, hips, hips and fingers. Rheumatoid may occur in many different parts of the body at the same time.
- Pain or swelling in joints that lasts for longer than 2 weeks
- Limited range of movement across a joint
- Weight loss
- Feeling unwell
Arthritis Risk Factors
- Trauma to a joint, i.e. infection or injury
- Smokers are up to 4 times as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis
- Some sports accelerate wear and tear on joints, e.g. long distance running
- Sex- women are more likely to develop arthritis than men
- Age- likelihood of developing arthritis increases with age
- Family history- arthritis does seem to run in families, suggesting a genetic factor
- Exercise- gentle exercise and stretching to keep the joints supple and lubricated. Strong muscles help keep the joint stable
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) e.g. ibuprophen and aspirin
- Nutritional supplements- glucocasamine is sulphur derived compound that has gained popularity in recent years due to its reputed ability to alleviate the symptoms associated with arthritis. Its potency may be enhanced when taken in conjunction with fish oils.
- Rest- Especially for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, rest is critical during periods of intense flare ups. Some people find using a splint to support the joint keeps it stable and reduces swelling, and thereby helps it to recover.
It has been suggested that diet may play a role in easing symptoms of both major forms of arthritis. However there seems little evidence to support this outside of the addition of fish oils, which may assist in keeping joints lubricated. Some people feel that changes in weather make their arthritis “flare up”, and in such cases moving to a more pleasant climate may be beneficial. There is no evidence to support the idea that climate can influence the speed of progression of symptoms, it may merely make the pre existing symptoms more tolerable.
Arthritic conditions are an inevitable consequence of ageing. The longer we live the greater the likelihood of developing one form or another. However, through the application of a healthy lifestyle the wear and tear on joints can be minimised.