Arthritis can affect people of all ages but the commonest type, osteoarthritis, is more likely to strike people from the age of about 45.
Osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage that cushions the joints becomes compromised by wear and tear or injury. Here we look at ways to live with this potentially debilitating condition, including shedding off those extra kilos to relieve your arthritic pain…….
Time to ease the load
If you’re carrying excess weight you’re also putting added strain on your joints, so it’s a good idea to reassess your eating habits and exercise plan. “Recent studies show that every kilogram you lose diminishes arthritic pain”, says rheumatologist Dr. Daniel Lewis. “The lower your weight, the less strain on your joints, less pain and less functional impairment.”
The best weight-loss strategies are those that allow you to lose weight gradually and include lifestyle changes you can stick to forever.
Work on your muscles
Healthy muscles provide stability and act as shock absorbers for your joints, but check with your doctor before embarking on any exercise program. Gentle walking, swimming, deep-water exercise or anything in the pool is good for people with arthritis. In the gym, choose only exercises you’re comfortable with.
Having a slight incline on your treadmill is better than walking on the flat because there’s less gravity and less impact on your knee joints.
On the exercise bikes and cross trainers, make sure that the resistance is minimal and if you’re taking a yoga or pilates class, make sure to stop as soon as you feel any pain or discomfort.
Stretching is important after you’ve warmed up – aim for five minutes a day. If you’re unsure about what exercises to do, a physiotherapist can tailor a program to your needs.
Manage your pain
Pain is highly individualised, and while sources of pain may include inflammation, pressure on ligaments or overstrained muscles, the management strategies will vary from person to person. It’s important to have your pain accurately assessed because there’s no point taking an anti-inflammatory medication if the source of your problem is mechanical.
Medications for osteoarthritis include over-the-counter analgesics like paracetamol, stronger painkillersand non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS). There’s been some controversy over the cardio-vasculareffects of NSAIDS, COX1 AND COX2 inhibitor medications. If you’re at increased risk for heart problems, it’s best to seek your doctor’s advice about medication.
Warm the muscles up
Try a heat pack or hot water bottle. Heat relaxes the muscles and dampens the intesity of the nervous system transmitting the pain. Hydrotherapy in hot water spas with gentle exercise can also help.
Try a TENS machine
A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine can provide relief by interrupting pain signals and triggering the release of feel-good endorphins.
Get the good oil
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish like tuna and mackerel, can have an anti-inflammatory effect at the cellular level. Although osteoarthritis is not primarily an inflammatory disease, some people do have inflammation.
You do need to take it as a supplement though – up to 10 capsules a day or 10ml
of liquid fish oil is recommended. There’s also a vegetable alternative in flaxseed oil and, while it’s not quite as potent, it has been shown to have a mild effect.
Rub some cream into it
Topical preparations like arnica cream have provided relief to some although there’s no hard scientific evidence to prove its efficacy. Anti-inflammatory gels such as Feldene, Nurofen and Voltaren may be of help to people with inflammation of the joints. Heat or ‘ice’ rubs work by deflecting the nervous system away from the source of pain.
Talk to your doctor
If nothing seems to work, see your doctor and ask for a referral to a rheumatologist who can assess you for intensive physiotherapy or even joint replacement surgery.
There is some risk involved with any surgery, so it’s not something you’d choose as the first line of treatment. But there can be a point of no return with cartilage damage, when quality of life is diminished and the risk of surgery is acceptable.
In such cases, surgery can be fabulously transforming. We see people who have knee or hip replacements and say it makes a huge difference to their quality of life.
Foods that are good for arthritis sufferers may include fish, vegetables, fruits (especially berries and pineapple), onions, garlic, turmeric and ginger. Foods that aren’t so good include red meat, white flour, sugar, coffee and alcohol.
In general, we’d recommend a low-fat Mediterranean-type diet and exercising regularly.While a Westmead Hospital study in 2002 found glucosamine to be helpful in relieving pain and slowing further damage, a recent US study found it didn’t help.
Chondroitin is often used with glucosamine but there’s no scientific evidence it works. If you want to try these compounds use them for only eight weeks to see if they work.
Best foot forward
People who have lower limb osteoarthritis may find that a good pair of well-fitted shoes helps. Your cartilage acts as a shock absorber, and if it’s no longer able to do the job, you may have to wear shoes that can.
Insoles made from a material called Sorbothane are excellent shock absorbers, and there are other Sorbothane products that may be useful.Osteoarthritis is a common condition. Much can be done for patients to enable them to live as normal a life as possible.
Author: Rowell Bulan, M.D.
Your Guide To Home Health Care
Arthritis Exercise for Strengthening the Hip & Knee Joints