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All about arthritis

All about arthritis – Live Great – Great Eastern Life

Arthritis is the inflammation of the joints, causing pain and swelling. It can affect one or more joints.

The joints in your body are points where two bones meet. Sandwiched between the bones and connecting them is a series of muscle, tendon, cartilage (soft bone) and cushiony pocket of soft tissue that contains a jelly-like liquid. When the tissues in the joint become inflamed, as in arthritis, swelling and pain can occur, especially when the joint is moved.  Arthritis can cause severe limitations in body functions as it limits movement and causes pain.

Types of arthritis
The common symptoms for all arthritis disorders include pain, swelling, joint stiffness and sometimes a constant tenderness around the joint. There are over 100 different types of arthritis. Common forms of arthritis include:

  • Osteoarthritis
    Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and can affect large and small joints of the body.

Usually this form of arthritis is due to prolonged wear and tear of the joint or as a result of injury. Weight-bearing joints tend to be more prone to osteoarthritis typically affects the weight bearing joints such as the back, spine, and pelvis. It also affects more elderly people.

In osteoarthritis, the condition tends to start from the wearing out of the cartilage in the bones. Cartilage is a soft boney tissue that covers the ends of the bone to cushion them as they rub against each other. When the cartilage wears out, the two opposing bones tend to rub painfully against each other.

The pain usually subsides when movement stops, but in serious cases, can persist even when you are not walking. Risk factors for osteoarthritis include previous injury to the joint, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.

  • Juvenile arthritis
    Arthritis is not just a medical condition suffered by the elderly. Children can get it too. Arthritis that occurs in those under 18-years of age is called juvenile arthritis. It bears all the same characteristics as the adult variety.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
    Rheumatoid arthritis is an immune system disorder where the body's own immune system  (defense mechanism of antibodies) attacks the body's own tissues, in particular, the tissues in the joints.

This causes the joint lining and cartilage to erode, causing swelling and pain and even deformity. Common areas affected by rheumatoid arthritis include the fingers, wrists, elbows and knees. Rheumatoid arthritis is not isolated to the elderly but can happen in adults aged 20 and above.

Why the immune system attacks the joints is not known, and there is no cure. Instead, treatment is aimed at alleviating the painful symptoms.

  • Gouty arthritis
    Gout, a condition where uric acid crystals collects in the joint, can cause inflammation. Gouty arthritis commonly affects the ankles, knees, fingers, wrists, and elbows. The pain usually comes and goes and during an attack, the joints suddenly become painful, red, swollen and hot. Extreme tenderness such that the slightest touch causes unbearable pain may also occur. Sufferers may even develop fever. These attacks usually subside in a few hours with or without medication.

Risk factors for gouty arthritis include: excessive alcohol intake, prior injury, diabetes, hypertension, abuse of diuretics

Living with arthritis
Many forms of arthritis such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis cannot be cured but treatment can help manage symptoms. Treatment usually includes pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications. Other non-drug treatments may include rest, hot or cold compressions and pain creams. In some cases, over-the-counter food supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin are recommended for those with osteoarthritis. Discuss these treatment options with your doctor.

In arthritis due to gout, a change in diet may help reduce the frequency of attacks. To lower the level of uric acid in the blood, a diet low in purines (which is broken down by to body to uric acid) is recommended. Foods high in purines include alcohol, asparagus, cauliflower, red meat, organ meat, processed meats and seafood.

In some cases physical therapy can help provide relief in the form of exercise and stretches. For the elderly it may be safer to use supportive walking devices, such as a cane or walker and to install handrails, toilet raisers and special hand grips to assist in the home.

Preventing arthritis
Because arthritis is so challenging to treat, prevention is an important step. Lower the risk of arthritis with these steps:

Maintain your ideal body weight to relive pressure on your joints (hips, knees, back and feet).

Exercise regularly to strengthen the muscles surrounding the joints; it keeps the joints from rubbing against one another and wearing down the cartilage.

Maintain good posture to protect the joints in your neck, back and knees.

Cross train and pace your exercise regime. Avoid repetitive stress on joints by alternating intense workouts with rest and stretches. 

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