FOCUS ON HEALTH
Managing arthritis and joint pain
By Virginia Nsitem
Joint pain in the morning? Stiff joints? Pain after exercise? Difficulty climbing stairs? Swollen joints in the hands and feet? These are all symptoms of arthritis, and this article will discuss two types of arthritis – osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a disease that affects the cartilage, bone, and fluid of a joint. It is often called a wear and tear or “degenerative” disease of the joint. Research has shown that osteoarthritis is the most common joint disease.
The beginning phase of osteoarthritis can continue for months or even years. This phase typically involves the swelling of the cartilage (joint cushion). As the osteoarthritis progresses, the cartilage wears down and thins out. The bone surface underneath the cartilage becomes exposed, and the additional stress on the bone causes further joint damage.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
- Achy pain in the joint
- Stiffness in the joint and decreased joint flexibility
- Crackling noises in the joint
- Pain worse after activity
- Pain and stiffness in the morning that eases after 30-60 minutes
- Pain at rest (severe osteoarthritis)
Osteoarthritis can develop from the repetitive wear and tear on the joint. Osteoarthritis in the weight-bearing joints (hips, knees, ankles) develops as a result of daily stress and load on the joints. In addition, weight gain can add to the pressure and stress on the joints, and may contribute to the development or progression of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis can also result from trauma to the joint or bone, after surgery on a joint, from repetitive stress, or from muscle conditions that affect the joints.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that involves chronic inflammation. Studies have shown that certain events, such as trauma or infection, can trigger this disease. A characteristic feature of rheumatoid arthritis is the effect on the small joints of the hands and feet, leading to destruction and eventually deformity of the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect the organs of the body such as the heart and lungs.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis include:
- Morning stiffness
- Pain in the joints
- Weakness in the joints
- Swelling in the joints
- Feeling “unwell” and tired
- Fever (low-grade) and weight-loss
Patients also complain of difficulty performing regular daily activities such as bathing, dressing, and walking, and activities that involve the use of the hands. Research has shown that Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of childhood arthritis, and is termed Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
Treatments for arthritis
Before treatment and rehabilitation can begin, it is important to get an accurate diagnosis. Osteoarthritis is typically diagnosed based on your symptoms, the examination, and findings on x-rays, CT scans, or MRI studies. However, rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed based on your symptoms, the examination, findings on x-rays, CT scans, or MRI studies, and the results of laboratory tests. Chiropractors specialize in diagnosing, treating, and rehabilitating injuries of the muscles, joints and nerves. A correct diagnosis is important to rule out more serious conditions that may be causing your pain and symptoms.
Chiropractors may include:
- The use of heat or cold to ease the joint pain.
- Therapeutic Laser therapy to reduce inflammation and pain.
- Physical therapies to improve tightness of the muscles and ligaments, and restore proper movement to the joints.
- Gentle Exercises: Stretching, walking, aqua/water therapy, and stationary bike are important physical activities that help improve the pain and symptoms, and also improve overall fitness.
- Massage therapy and Acupuncture are helpful for providing a pain-relieving effect throughout the body, an anti-inflammatory effect, and a general sense of improved well-being.
- Education on the progression of the disease and the importance of balancing rest and exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight to slow down the deterioration of the joints.
A successful treatment program requires the active participation of the patient in the development and execution of the recommendations. Your chiropractor will also work closely with your family physician and specialists (ex. orthopedic surgeon, rheumatoid specialist) to treat your condition.
Stop the Pain … Before the Pain Stops You!
(Dr. Virginia Nsitem is a chiropractor specializing in laser therapy for muscle, joint, and nerve injuries, and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Chiropractic Sports Sciences in Canada. She may be reached at (905) 275-4993, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org )