The term arthritis is used to describe more than 100 conditions that affect joints, the tissues which surround joints, and other connective tissue. These conditions range from relatively mild forms of tendonitis and bursitis to systemic illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis. They are differentiated by how the condition evolved, the joints affected, and signs and symptoms. Arthritis is common in adults 65 and older, but it can affect people of all ages, races, and ethnic groups.
Two of the most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and they have different causes, risk factors, and effects on the body:
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis and is often referred to as “Wear and Tear Arthritis”. In most cases, over time, the cartilage in joints breaks down, and symptoms begin to occur. Cartilage is the part of the joint that covers the ends of the bones that interact in the joint. Cartilage acts as a shock absorber, allowing the joint to move smoothly.
As cartilage breaks down, the ends of the bones thicken and the joint may lose its normal shape. With further cartilage breakdown, the ends of the bones may begin to rub together, causing pain. In addition, damaged joint tissue can cause the release of certain substances called prostaglandins, which can also contribute to the pain and swelling characteristic of the disease.
Osteoarthritis is most commonly found in the:
Wrists, elbows, shoulders, and ankles can also be affected by OA, but this occurs less frequently. When OA is found in these joints, there may have been a history of injury or stress to that joint.
While the exact cause of OA is unknown, it is believed to be repetitive movement or an injury that leads to damage in the joint. Both cases involve the erosion of the cartilage.
Typically, OA comes on slowly. For many, the first signs are joints that ache after physical work or exercise. As the disease progresses, other common symptoms include:
If you experience joint pain, stiffness, and/or swelling that won’t go away; you should see your doctor. Your doctor will be able to determine if you have arthritis and, if so, what type. X-Ray and Joint Aspiration tests can help confirm the diagnosis and determine the extent of damage to the joint:
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks normal joint tissues, causing inflammation of the joint lining (called the synovium).
This inflammation of the joint lining can cause pain, stiffness, swelling, warmth, and redness. The affected joint may also lose its shape, resulting in loss of normal movement. RA is an ongoing disease, with active periods of pain and inflammation, known as flares, alternating with periods of remission, when pain and inflammation disappear.
RA can affect many different joints. In some people, it can even affect parts of the body other than the joints, including the eyes, blood, lungs, and heart.
The exact causes of RA are unknown. But research has shown that several factors may contribute to the development of RA:
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Although RA is often a chronic disease, the severity and duration of symptoms may come and go, resulting in periods of flare-ups or flares, alternating with periods when the symptoms fade or disappear, called remission.
Rheumatoid arthritis can cause joint inflammation, which can affect the ability to go about your daily activities. If left untreated, RA can worsen and destroy joints. After the onset of the disease, some of the effects of RA are as follows:
If you have persistent discomfort and swelling in multiple joints on both sides of your body, see your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment can help slow disease progression.
Your doctor should ask questions about your medical history and examine the joints that are bothering you. Your doctor will also decide if you need other tests to help confirm the diagnosis of RA and determine the extent and severity of joint damage. These may include:
Treatment Options for Arthritis
It’s important to understand that although there is no way to reverse the cartilage loss of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, there are treatment options available to help you relieve the symptoms. These can include:
Your doctor may even suggest combining several treatment options to more effectively manage your arthritis symptoms.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight increases the risk for developing OA. Losing weight is the easiest and simplest form of treatment to control arthritis symptoms and other health related problems.
Even a little weight loss can make a difference when it comes to reducing stress on your joints, especially the knees. For every pound you lose, you remove about 4 pounds of stress from your knees.
Aim to achieve a normal healthy weight. Any significant weight loss can lower your health risk and result in a decrease of inflammation of the joints, greater mobility of the joints and less pain.
Many of Dr. Bernstein Diet & Health Clinic patients find that painful arthritic symptoms are reduced or even disappear with weight loss. Swelling of the arthritic joints reduces with weight loss, which helps reduce pain and improve the range of movement of affected joints. Some patients have reduced or even eliminated their need for anti-arthritic medications. It is amazing how a loss of extra weight can relieve excruciating symptoms that they have been suffering over the years and improve the quality of life.
The Dr. Bernstein diet program is a medically supervised weight loss program which is a safe and effective method to lose excess weight. The Diet is designed for anyone who needs to lose weight to lead a healthy life. With the diet program, over 90% of our patients can stop the use of all arthritis medication when they reach their expected goal weight. The program includes a restricted diet, with vitamin and mineral supplementation and behavioural and life style modification.
Have you been advised to have hip or knee replacement surgery?
After losing a significant amount or weight, 70 or more pounds, most of our patients have been able to cancel replacement joint surgery because of significant relief of pain and increased movement. If you do require surgery, significant weight loss prior to surgery will improve your speed of recovery.
Our experience has shown that weight loss reduces joint inflammation and thus reduces swelling and pain and increase joint range of movement.
Contrary to what many people may think, exercise and staying active is not only good for your health, but it can also help relieve the symptoms of arthritis. In fact, people with arthritis who exercise tend to have less pain, more energy, improved sleep, and better day-to-day function. Staying active can help keep joints flexible and improve one’s ability to stay mobile.
Besides helping to ease arthritis symptoms, exercise can also:
Any exercise regimen should include adequate rest. It’s important to learn how to recognize the signs of overexertion, which can include fatigue and muscle weakness.
Getting proper sleep is also an important part of managing arthritis symptoms. If you find that joint pain is interfering with your ability to rest or sleep, talk to your doctor.
i. Over-the-counter medication
One way to manage arthritis symptoms is with an over-the-counter (OTC) medication. These can include:
ii.Arthritis Prescription Medication
Prescription medications are an available treatment option to help manage arthritis symptoms.
Everyone responds differently to medications so only you and your doctor can decide which one is right for you.
iii. More Than Medication
Medications are an important part of managing arthritis symptoms. But medication alone may not be enough. Guidelines from both the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) and the Osteoarthritis Research Society International (OARSI) suggest taking an active approach that includes medication as well as lifestyle changes to more effectively manage arthritis symptoms.
Keep Working with Your Doctor
Alternative Therapies for Arthritis Symptoms
Studies have shown that some alternative therapies can help you manage arthritis symptoms. Don’t consider your approach to managing arthritis symptoms complete until you look into alternative therapies. Here are some ideas:
Meditation and Relaxation
Meditation and relaxation techniques can help reduce muscle tension and the stress that can accompany arthritis. In one study, RA patients who meditated 45 minutes a day reduced their stress by one third.
Yoga can be an effective way to increase physical activity. It can increase muscle strength, improve flexibility, and promote balance. It’s also associated with increased mental energy, positive feelings, and fewer body aches and pains.
Tai chi is a slow-moving meditative exercise that originated in China. Many people practice tai chi to ease pain and stiffness, improve balance (which can help decrease the risk of falls), and improve overall health and well-being. It involves breathing deeply as you move your body slowly, gently, and with awareness.
Acupuncture has been practiced in China and other Asian countries for over 2,000 years. It involves stimulating nerves, muscles, and connective tissue in specific points on the body. It is thought to decrease pain by releasing the body’s natural chemicals that block pain. Acupuncture has been shown to provide pain relief and improve function for people with osteoarthritis of the knee.
Nutritional supplements, when taken correctly, may also be beneficial. However, some of these may interfere with other medicines you are taking, so before you try adding a supplement, talk to your doctor.
Massage can help increase blood flow and increase warmth to a stressed area, which may help relieve pain.