Advice for Arthritis Sufferers
You can make a difference
With over 20 years experience as a practising osteopath and a previous career in nursing, I’ve seen many patients undergo joint replacements, other invasive surgery, injections and needing to take long-term medication to control the pain associated with arthritis. However, with a few simple measures, you can help yourself and possibly delay such intervention.
There are many types of arthritis but for this article I am going to focus on the most common type, osteoarthritis, which affects a staggering 8.5 million people in the UK. Most people believe that this is a condition of old age but even people in their 20s and 30s can get osteoarthritis. The likelihood of developing the disease does increase with age and over the age of 50, it is more common in women.
Arthritis is a term that means inflammation of the joint. Osteoarthritis, also known as degeneration joint disease, is when the cartilage in a joint becomes damaged, leading to inflammation to tissues in and around the joint. The purpose of the cartilage is to act as a shock absorber and reduce the friction between 2 bones. Once the cartilage is damaged, bony growths around the edge of the joints can occur and at this stage, it is irreversible. This can result in painful, swollen or enlarged stiff joints. The most commonly affected areas are the hips, knees, fingers, low back and neck. Osteoarthritis can be hereditary but being overweight, injuring a joint or overusing a joint (e.g. occupational) can all increase your chance of developing this disease.
What you can do to help yourself
Exercise: Take moderate, regular exercise. Do as much as you can but avoid the activities that tend to aggravate your condition. If you overdo it and have a flare-up, try icing a joint but always make sure that the ice pack is wrapped in a towel to avoid burning the skin.
Diet: Eat a healthy diet. There are many myths about what food is of benefit but most are unproven. However, there is increasing evidence that the Mediterranean diet is good for arthritis – plenty of fruit and vegetables, fish, red meat in moderation and grains and pulses. Omega-3 rich foods are believed to be anti-inflammatory and may help to reduce the inflammation in arthritic joints. The problem is that for many people the dietary intake of omega-3s has dropped to a low enough level that it could be affecting their health and hence why the Government now recommends us eating oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel or sardines, at least once a week. Omego-3s are also found in nuts and seeds.
Food supplements: For those that do not eat enough Omega-3s, food supplements are an alternative. Another popular supplement is glucosamine. Glucosamine is essential for maintaining healthy cartilage but once our body stops manufacturing enough natural glucosamine, there is no edible food source. Animal studies on glucosamine have shown that cartilage damage can be both delayed and repaired. However, recent trials on supplementing with glucosamine for osteoarthritis are unconvincing. To read reviews on these trials, by Versus Arthritis, please follow the link below.
Weight: If you are overweight this can put extra strain on your joints. Bear in mind that losing 2 stone in weight can reduce pain in the knee by 50%.
Osteopathy: Many patients that seek my help for pain relief have underlying osteoarthritis. This may be a flare-up that just requires a couple of treatments, or a patient awaiting a joint replacement. For the latter, osteopathy helps to minimise the pain, to keep the patient as mobile as possible and aids a speedier recovery, post-surgery.
So, start thinking about how healthy your joints are and make a difference to your life today!