A musculoskeletal disorder, arthritis affects millions across the world. It is a debilitating condition that restricts your range of movement and affects your functional life. If left untreated, it may inhibit your movement altogether.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a joint disorder that causes the inflammation of one or more joints leading to pain. It is an umbrella term for over 100 different forms of joint disorder. Each form of arthritis comes with its own set of complications, causes and prognosis. The most common forms of this condition are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis. Other common types include psoriatic arthritis, (associated with conditions), gout (deposition of uric acid), etc. Almost 50 million people around the world are affected by one or another form of arthritis.
Types of Arthritis
Broadly speaking, there are two types of arthritis: Inflammatory and Non-inflammatory.
Rheumatoid arthritis, gout and psoriatic arthritis are the most common forms of this condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis: It is an autoimmune and chronic inflammatory disease which mainly affects the joints of your hands and feet. Affecting mostly women, this condition manifests after you are 40. However, rheumatoid arthritis can affect children too. This is known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The linings of your joints mostly take the hit when you have rheumatoid arthritis. This leads to pain and swelling. The treatment of this condition is aimed at symptom control.
Gout: Most common in men, it is caused by increased uric acid in the blood. However, not everybody with high levels of this acid in the blood are affected by gout. When uric acid levels in the blood are too high, they may form hard crystals in your joints. Being overweight, excessive alcohol indulgence or loading up on too much of meat also up your risk of gout. In fact, some fish are high in chemicals called purines which increase your chances of getting gout. Medicines like diuretics also be one of the risk factors behind the condition. Gout is usually characterized by a sudden burning pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints.
Psoriatic arthritis: Normally, this type of arthritis affects people with psoriasis, a dermatological disorder that manifests itself through red patches on the skin which come with silvery scales on top. The symptoms of psoriatic arthritis include joint pain, stiffness and swelling. The manifestations, which can occur at any part of your body including your fingertips and spine, may range from mild to severe. The treatment approach is that of symptom control.
Osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and back ache are the common forms of non-inflammatory arthritis.
Osteoarthritis: Also known as degenerative arthritis, it is usually caused by the overuse of joints. This can be due to obesity, age and other factors. Osteoarthritis generally affects the knees, hips, feet, and spine joints which bear your body weight. Cartilage covering the ends of bones serves as the body’s shock absorber. With osteoarthritis, the cartilage gradually breaks down resulting in pain when the joint is moved.
Fibromyalgia: It is a disease characterised by long-lasting, extensive pain and tenderness of muscles, ligaments and tendons. It damages the joints and/or soft tissues, causing chronic pain. It does not get worse with time and is never fatal.
Backache: It is one of the most common health problems that afflicts both men and women of any age bracket. It can be anything from mild to severe, starting slowly over a period of time as a result of poor posture. Back pain can either last for a few days or remain for weeks, months and even years.
Symptoms of Arthritis
Regardless of the type, arthritis causes pain and limits your range of movement. If your arthritis is due to inflammation of the joints then you may experience joint swelling, redness, warmth and stiffness. In case of rheumatoid arthritis, various organs of your body may be affected. You may experience fever, lymph nodes swelling, weight loss, tiredness, inability to use your hand, difficulty in walking and poor sleep. Here is how you can distinguish regular pain from early signs of arthritis:
- The pains last for more than a week
- You experience unexplained joint pain usually accompanied with fever
- You experience difficulty in carrying out daily chores due to joint pain
- Your joint pain isn’t cured by pain killers
- There is swelling and stiffness in the joints
What Causes Arthritis?
The trigger behind arthritis varies depending on the form of this condition. Moreover, a combination of factors can be the culprit behind this joint disorder. Here are some of the common factors that contribute to most forms of arthritis. The contributing factors behind arthritis include:
- Injury- It may cause degenerative arthritis
- Abnormal metabolism-It leads to gout
- Genetic predisposition-It increases your risk of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis
- Infections-such as in the arthritis of Lyme disease
- Immune System Dysfunction-It leads to rheumatoid arthritis
- Obesity-It leads to degeneration of bones
- Age-Your risk increases with age
- Gender-Women are more vulnerable to arthritis than men.
- Professions that demand long hours of sitting.
Diagnosis of Arthritis
The diagnosis will be based on your symptoms and the location of inflammation. The tests include blood examination, and X-ray findings, MRI scan, CT scan, synovial fluid analysis and/or a urine test. You may have to visit your doctor several times before he can rule out other causes and confirm the diagnosis. If not diagnosed and treated early, arthritis can be a debilitating disorder.
Treatment of Arthritis
The type of arthritis decides your treatment options. Curative methods may include medications, physiotherapy, exercise, weight control and orthopaedic bracing. Eroding forms of arthritis may require joint replacement surgery. Medicines are advised to reduce inflammation and pain in the joint. There is no permanent cure for arthritis.
Doctors generally prescribe pain killers, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and steroids. Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are also suggested to suppress underlying inflammatory diseases. Biologic drugs are used in treating rheumatoid arthritis or when DMARDs are ineffective.
It involves special exercises that you do in a warm-water pool.
Due to pain, you will often avoid moving the affected joint. A physiotherapist can help you work out the joint stiffness without damaging it.
It promotes health and well-being by teaching you how to reduce the strain on your joints during your daily activities. Your home and workplace may be modified by your occupational therapist so that you can move about without worsening your arthritis.
It is usually recommended when other treatment options fail and the damage to your joints is severe enough to affect your functionality. Surgery can either be pain-relieving or reconstructive. Surgical interventions include replacing a badly damaged joint with an artificial joint, removing the inflamed lining of the joint cavity, releasing trapped nerves or fusing a joint to make it more stable. The most common form of surgery for arthritis is joint replacement.
Eating certain kinds of food could help you relieve the symptoms of arthritis while others could worsen them. Mumbai-based nutritionist Naini Setalvad tells us more.
Spice it up
If you want to beat arthritis you need to include more vegetables such as garlic and onions into your diet. Ideally, you should combine them with ginger. “I would even suggest simply chewing on ginger all day long – that truly helps! In addition, stock up on the chilli family, ranging from the fresh green chilies to the capsicum. You could also use more spices such as cloves and cinnamon,” says Setalvad.
Try some variety in your rotis
When it comes to your rotis, try those made of jowar, nachani, raagi and bajri. “They are great for your arthritis-ridden joints because they contain nutrients that help ease your pain,” she says.
All fats are not bad
You also need healthy fats to soothe the joints – the kind present in nuts and seeds like walnuts, cashew nuts, pistachios, etc. “Cook your food in extra virgin olive oil and don’t forget to dab some ghee on your rotis. If you do not like ghee, a good amount of coconut flesh can be an alternative. These fats not only help lubricate the joints, they also enable the absorption of certain vitamins which provide nutrition to the joints,” suggests Setalvad.
Beware of foods that worsen the pain
Avoid tomatoes, lemon, amla, imli, dairy products and wheat if possible. These foods could possibly worsen the pain in your joints. “However, the worst part about this is the fact that cutting some of these foods could deprive you of Vitamin C. So you must ensure that you get enough guava and kokum in your daily diet. This will not only keep your vitamin C levels up, but also help fight inflammation,” she adds. Other foods that you should avoid are white flour, white sugar and table salt. Switch from white sugar to natural sweeteners like jaggery and dates. You could also replace your white salt with rock salt and sea salt. They contain additional minerals with healing properties that are not available in white table salt.
Keep a tab on your vitamins
In addition to all the healthy changes, you should also keep a regular tab on your vitamin B 12 and vitamin D 3 levels, the later being slightly more important in case of arthritis. Consult a physician and take the supplements as required. Low vitamin B 12 and vitamin D 3 levels are a sure shot sign of arthritis.
Prevention of Arthritis
Some forms of this joint disorder cannot actually be prevented because they are the results of non-modifiable factors like age, genes and gender. However, a few habits may reduce your risk of arthritis:
Maintain a healthy body weight
Your knees bear the most of your weight. So, being overweight will hurt them the most and lead to erosion of the joint. Regular workout is the key to keeping off the extra kilos and strengthen your muscles and joints. Follow a routine that combines aerobic workouts, strength training exercises, and light stretches.
Keep injuries at bay
Degeneration of joints is a natural phenomenon of ageing. But this process becomes faster when your bones are injured and cartilage damaged. To reduce your risk of injury, use adequate safety equipment if you are involved in any kind of sport. Learn the right techniques while exercising.
Pay attention to your posture
The posture that you use while sitting, standing or lifting weights determines the health of your bones and muscles to a large extent. While picking up an object, keep it close to your body and lift your knees and hips instead of your back. This will make sure that your back muscles and wrists are not strained. Also, while sitting for long hours, your back, legs and hands should be supported well.