With a chilly -6 degrees this week, achy and swollen joints are all too common in these cold winter months. This is commonly referred to as Arthritis and is the major cause of disability and chronic pain in Australia with 3.85 million Australians affected at a cost to our economy of more than $23.9 billion each year in medical care and indirect costs such as loss of earnings and lost production.*
Arthritis refers to inflammation or degeneration of a joint.
Osteoarthritis, often called ‘wear and tear,’ is the most common form of arthritis and is caused by a process of inflammation of the smooth cartilage surrounding a joint. The surface becomes less smooth and eventually wears away.
Another common form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, occurs when your body’s immune system attacks the tissues of the body. 100’s of other forms exist including gout, reactive arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis etc.
With normal use a joint can last for a lifetime, however abnormal or excessive use, or having an injury to the joint can cause the wear to accelerate. Most types of arthritis are caused by many factors acting together. You may be naturally more likely to develop certain disorders as a result of your genetic make-up. Old football injuries to joints, car accidents, years of heavy lifting or doing repetitive activities such as squatting, kneeling, assembly line or even computer work that excessively uses joints can also accelerate the ‘wear and tear’ process. Being overweight puts strain on joints of the knee, hip and spine and is a big contributing factor to the pain of Osteoarthritis. However, it is not a purely mechanical issue, but can also be affected by diet and other aspects of general health.
The symptoms of arthritis tend to vary from day to day and from week to week. As an example, episodes of back pain or painful ‘flare-ups’ of rheumatoid arthritis are often short-lived, even though the underlying cause hasn’t changed. Other conditions, including gout, while typically relate to an exquisitely painful big toe can often be controlled by treatment. Many types of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, are long-term conditions, where the disease cannot be cured. The symptoms of these conditions tend to vary over time. Your symptoms may go away for quite some time (remission) and there may be periods where they become worse. A good assessment of the situation is vital as the problem may not be arthritis at all, or it may be mild arthritis combined with muscle tension or other issues. Diagnostic tests such as X-ray, MRI, CT scans, blood tests, etc can help to diagnose the problem and the extent of it.
How can I tell if I have osteoarthritis?
Arthritis can start suddenly without any obvious cause, and at any age. Sometimes something in your lifestyle or medical history or a combination of these could be responsible.
With osteoarthritis the joints become increasingly painful when under load such as the knee or hip after walking. There may also be swelling in the joint. When the spine is affected it is painful to bend and your back may ache after long periods of sitting still. You ache and feel stiff particularly in the mornings. It is worse in the winter because the muscles tighten up and circulation to the outer parts of the body is not so good. Your joints become less mobile and may become weaker as muscles may sometimes waste away around the joint.
Osteopaths spend a vast amount of time dealing with the pain and suffering caused by arthritis. Many people mistakenly assume that they must learn to live with their symptoms. In many cases, osteopaths are able to help considerably. Pain relief and lifestyle management can really improve the quality of life for arthritis sufferers.