Have you got Arthritis?
What does this mean? Is it a life sentence? Can it be cured?
One of the common things that a patient will tell me when they are recounting their medical history to me is that they have arthritis in a joint – maybe in a knee, or a shoulder joint, or a thumb joint or in their spine. Sometimes they come in because they are suspicious that arthritis is causing their pain.
I always treat this with a bit of skepticism as I find that arthritis is commonly misunderstood amongst the public. It is also a thing that most patients tend to seize upon if mentioned in the therapy room as it is a scary sounding condition and associated with a lot of negative ideas about life long pain and disability.
I’ve written this blog to try and help clear up some of the commonly held myths about Arthritis.
Did you know that Arthritis is an umbrella term for over 100 conditions affecting the joints? And that not all arthritis is equal? Broadly they can be separated into inflammatory and degenerative. Inflammatory Arthritises are a group of conditions characterized by autoimmune reactions in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks sections of its own bone, tissue or joints. Common types of inflammatory arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, but there are many more. These conditions are rare, usually affecting less that 1% of the population. They need specialist management, usually a combination of a rheumatologist and your G.P. You can see a manual therapist like me to help with management of symptoms, but the management plan is usually multifaceted and managed by the G.P and specialist.
Osteoarthritis is a far more common type of arthritis, with some numbers reflecting an incidence across the lifetime of as high as 40% of the population for common joints such as the knee. The mechanism of Osteoarthritis is progressive damage to joint tissue, usually in weight bearing joints like the knee, spine and hip, but it is also common in the hand and wrist. It used to be thought of as a progression of the ‘usual wear and tear’ of ageing and thus inevitable – but now we not know that this is not true. Osteoarthritis is more common in some families than others, indicating a strong genetic component. But this is not the complete story either. Osteoarthritis begins many years before a person experiences symptoms, perhaps with some innocuous trauma to the joints that is compounded by other factors like genetics or weight or repetitive activity over time eventually causing damage to build up.
Obesity is strongly indicated in the development of arthritis, especially in weight bearing joints but hormones also play a part. Many women develop hand arthritis at menopause.
This type of arthritis we can do more about as Osteopaths. We know that exercise is crucial in warding off the negative effects of joint damage and age on the body, but it has to be the right type of exercise. If you have some early knee stiffening we are not going to advise you to go and start on a box jumping program. We also know that weight-bearing exercise is good for reducing pain in those who have developed Osteoarthritis. This seems to strengthen muscles around the joints to better help support them. The cardinal symptom of this type of arthritis is stiffness, particularly felt in the morning.
All of this stuff we can help with at Sydney Health Professionals. We have a great multidisciplinary team here to give sufferers the best care available.
I think the main take home point here is that if you notice some early morning stiffening in one or more of your joints it might be worth making an appointment to see a manual therapist earlier rather than adopting a wait and see approach. A good home stretching and strengthening program before the disease really takes hold can save you loads of pain and money in the future.
And if you already have Osteoarthritis, or know someone who suffers with it on a daily basis? Don’t despair. It’s never too late to do something meaningful and effective to help manage it. We have lots of patients who are working successfully on reducing the symptoms of osteoarthritis and increasing their strength and mobility despite it.
And what does the future hold? One of the reasons I implore my patients to keep fighting the symptoms is that advances in stem cells treatments are showing some very positive initial results for meaningful ways to actually repair some of the damage caused by the disease. But it is still very early days for this therapy. So stay strong, stay mobile and stay positive. And if you or a family member needs help come in and see an Osteopath at Sydney Health Professionals in the meantime.