Arthritis

Arthritis

The term arthritis can be applied to over two hundred separate conditions. The two most common forms are:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis

This is one of the most common form of arthritis and affects around 1 in every 100 people. Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by a reaction of the nervous system, to a non-existant stimulus. That is, the immune system starts attacking the joints and other parts of the body, although no threat is present.

Rheumatoid arthritis is far most common in women than men and usually starts to appear between the ages of 30 and 50, although younger people are occasionally affected.

This form of athritis results in inflammation of the tendons, synovial sheaths and bursae (sacks of fluid which allow smooth movement of muscles/tendons over bone). Flare-ups usually occur, where the symptoms are exacerbated for a period of time. During a flare-up, joints will become stiff, swollen, red and painful. The small joints of your fingers, hands, wrists, feet and ankles are most commonly affected.

How is Rheumatoid Arthritis Treated?

As Rheumatoid Arthritis cannot be cured, the main aim of treatment is to control the symptoms. Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs (DMARD's) are usually given to slow down the progression of the condition. Anti-inflammatories are often taken alongside DMARD's.

There are other ways that arthritis sufferers can ease their symptoms. These include:

Exercising - gentle exercise can help to keep the muscles strong and the joints supple. Swimming and Pilates are both excellent forms of exercise for arthritis sufferers.

Loose weight - the more excess weight being carried, the more strain is placed on the joints

Hot/cold therapy - applying a hotpack can help if the joints feel stiff or an ice pack can reduce the temperature if they feel hot and irritated

Occupational Therapy - this involves adapting daily activities with the use of specialist equipment and gadgets. For example using an electric can-opener instead of a manual one.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It affects the cartilage and adjacent bone surfaces within joints. It is sometimes referred to as 'wear and tear' arthritis.

The cartilage in usually weight bearing joints (most often the knee and hip) becomes damaged and worn away. The exact reason for this is unknown, although there are some predisposing factors:

  • Age - OA becomes more prevalent in older patients. This is thought to be due to a reduced flow of blood to the joints and a slower rate of repair. OA has however been reported in teenagers too.
  • Weight - Being overweight places additional strain on the joints
  • Genetics - There may be a genetic link to developing OA
  • Previous Injury - Injuries to the knee for example can increase the development of OA later in life. This is known as secondary OA.

The symptoms of OA include pain, stiffness and reduced movement at the joint. It is usually worse in the morning and improves within an hour or so. Inflammation and swelling sometimes also occur.

How is Osteoarthritis Treated?

  • Exercise is usually advised for people suffering from OA. This helps to keep the joints flexible and strong.
  • Using orthotics or insoles in the shoes can help with OA of the hip and knee
  • Wearing a knee brace
  • Walking aids
  • Physiotherapy
  • TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)
  • Supplements - Glucosamine Sulphate and Chondroitin Sulphate
  • Painkillers and anti-inflammatories (NSAID's)
  • Joint replacement Surgery (last resort!)