Do you suffer with stiff and painful joints? According to the Arthritis Foundation, joint inflammation is the number one cause of disability and pain in the US, affecting 1 in 5 of all adults (20% of the population). Arthritis tends to be chronic (can’t be cured) but treatment can help. Although there are over 100 types of arthritis, the two most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is also called “Degenerative Joint Disease” and is characterized by degeneration of the protective cartilage in the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease affecting connective tissue causing chronic joint inflammation, deformities, and loss of function over time. Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by periods of exacerbation and remission. This article will discuss symptoms and possible treatments for arthritis.
Warning Signs of Arthritis
- Pain in joints (Osteoarthritis usually targets the fingers, feet, spine, knees, and hips; Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects the fingers, wrists, knees, and spine)
- Stiff joints especially in the morning
- Changes in the shape of joints (example: Bouchards and Herderden’s nodes in the finger joints)
- Joint cracking sounds
- Limited range of motion and mobility
- Rheumatoid arthritis may also exhibit systemic symptoms such as fatigue or malaise due to the immune system attacks connective tissue throughout the body.
Tips for Treatment
- Discuss all medications with your physician or nurse practitioner. Common over the counter pain medications such as acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen and other NSAIDS, and Capsaicin topical cream may help relieve pain. Due to the possibility of side effects and interactions with other medicines, always talk to your healthcare provider about your medications.
- Use heat and cold application for pain. If having exacerbation of rheumatoid arthritis, it is best to avoid heat on already inflamed and reddened joints. Click here for an article about when to use ice versus heat.
- Stay active- As much as you can tolerate the pain, continue weight bearing exercise regularly and perform range of motion daily to joints. Swimming is a good option for those who need a lighter non-weight bearing exercise. Maintaining a healthy diet and weight will ease the load on joints.
- Try to eat an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet, which is low in processed foods and saturated fat, and rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and beans. Nightshade vegetables, which include eggplant, tomatoes, red bell peppers and potatoes have been reported to cause increased arthritis pain for some patient, although there is no scientific evidence to prove this. Research by the National Institutes of Health showed that drinking green tea may help improve rheumatoid arthritis symptom severity. Click here to visit the Arthritis Foundation’s website for more information on following an anti-inflammatory diet.
- Try yoga or tai chi- Some research studies have demonstrated positive outcomes such as less pain and better range of motion for patients with arthritis who participated in yoga over a three month period.
- Acupuncture is an age-old Chinese practice that involves using thin needles to stimulate certain points on the body in hopes of releasing tightened muscles to their resting state. It also affects the nerves releasing natural pain killers, called endorphins. Click here to read about the research supporting the effect of acupuncture for arthritis sufferers.
- Talk to your healthcare provider about other pain management options such as steroid injections in the office. Joint replacement may be an option if conservative measures fail to relieve pain and quality of life and mobility is severely impacted.
Living with arthritis can be challenging and like any chronic illness it may result in stress, depression, and anxiety. Find a local support group or visit the online community “Arthritis Foundation Support Group.”