So what is arthritis anyway? We hear about it every day in the media, we know friends, family, and coworkers who suffer from it. But what is it?
Arthritis: Joint Inflammation, there are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions. But it is the board term used to describe joint pain (from any cause) and swelling.
Who gets it? Well really anyone can suffer from arthritis. Male, Female, young and old; over 50 million Adults and 300,000 children have some type of arthritis.
How do you know you have arthritis? Don’t worry, not all inflammation will lead to a diagnosis of arthritis. But if you are concerned about chronic pain in and around a joint, it is best to visit with your family primary care provider. The first step is to understand where the pain is originating from. This may lead to the question, what is inflammation? We know what swelling looks like, but what is the actual reaction taking place in the body. Inflammation is a process by which the body’s white blood cells and other substances that are produced (inflammatory mediators) to protect us from foreign organisms and to help heal injuries go to the area in need. Inflammation is necessary to healing. There are three major components to inflammation, vascular changes, cellular events, and mediators.
The vasodilatation that occurs with the vascular changes will cause redness and warmth (hot to the touch), the inflammatory mediators cause a leak of fluid which results in swelling, and the additional swelling may compress or activate the nerves causing increased pain. If you are in pain for several days without symptoms changing, it is important to be evaluated.
What can be done to prevent arthritis? Maintaining a healthy weight and regular moderate activity will keep those joints lubricated. But sometimes arthritis just forms with age and there isn’t much we can do about it. So once you start seeing signs of arthritis or have been diagnosed, there are tons of options to keep moving and reduce pain.
- Improve Range of Motion: If injured, make sure you are supervised while increasing muscle strength and flexibility to support better range of motion. You can have a physical therapist or an experienced and certified personal trainer create a rehabilitation plan.
- Chiropractic Alignment: Injuries cause us to overcompensate on one side, then creating more wear and tear on a joint which can lead to arthritis. There are tons of other benefits to chiropractic care and something we highly recommend!
- Avoid inflammatory foods: Did you know that many of the foods we consume every day have inflammatory properties. The common “bad for you” foods are many of the culprits, like sugar, caffeine, tobacco, MSG, trans-fat, etc. But foods that wouldn’t seem all that bad can also carry a a chemical that is known to cause inflammation. Gluten is a culprit and so are a family of fruits and vegetables called Nightshades (White potato, tomato, eggplant, bell peppers, and all varieties of chilies). While not everyone reacts the same, concentrated versions of these items are more apt to cause added inflammation.
- Anti-inflammatory foods: Just like some foods cause inflammation, there are foods that decrease inflammation. Omega 3’s, broccoli, and green tea just to name a few. One that stands out and is great for many natural remedies is Tumeric, the anti-inflammatory root can help in a number of situations.
- Medicated Creams and Compounded Creams: You can get creams that have the same pain relievers as typical over the counter medication. But by applying it to the skin you may avoid some other risks and side effects. Depending on the arthritis, this may or may not be an option depending on where the inflammation is concentrated.
- Over the counter pain relievers: Such as Advil, Ibuprofen, Tylenol, etc. But be sure to consult your PCP before using these methods long term as they carry other side effects with extended use (intestinal or kidney damage).
- Prescription Pain Relievers: If the pain is severe enough, your doctor may recommend a stronger pain reliever. Be sure to understand all the effects and options as you make this decision. Many people see long term relief with a low dosage of prescribed medication.
- Joint Injections: Many athletes have injections directly in to the effected joint. Options like Corticosteroids (only 3 injections a year) can give you overall relief. But it is a short term solution. A newer option is Hyaluronic acid which mimics synovial fluid to lubricate the joint.
- Surgery: While often the last resort, technology is continuing to advance in joint replacement. Speak with your orthopedist and understand all the options, and how long the hardware is expected to last!
Bottom line: Arthritis can suck and depending on what form you have, treatment options are all different. But the big thing is to not stop moving. The more you can safely activate your body through movement; the better off you will be in the long run!