According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are many forms of arthritis, including rheumatoid and juvenile arthritis. The most common form of this disease, however, is osteoarthritis. It’s also called the “wear and tear disease” and it is commonly defined as a degeneration of the joints because it wears away the cartilage that surrounds the neck, spine, shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, hips and knees. It’s most prevalent and troubling in the larger joints such as the hips and knees.
Arthritis Foundation statistics provided by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention indicate that people of all ages can suffer from this disease. The breakdown is as follows:
- Ages 18-44 /13 percent
- Ages 45-64 / 40 percent
- Ages 65 and up/ 58 percent
Osteoarthritis can affect both couch potatoes and seasoned athletes. It often sneaks up on a person, and usually begins with symptoms as innocuous as a slight limp or a stiff elbow. Knees may become a bit swollen or it may be more difficult to flex wrists or fingers. As time goes on, however, symptoms become more difficult to ignore and the pain becomes more troubling.
As the joint cartilage and the synovial fluid that keeps it lubricated, continue to deteriorate, pain becomes constant and severe. The cartilage begins to wear completely away and then bone begins rubbing against bone. This is when arthritis gets really ugly.
When the pain mounts, quality of life decreases. Climbing stairs begins to feel like scaling Mount Everest. Power walking feels like limping along, and bicycle riding feels like struggling against the wind. It’s difficult for individuals who once felt healthy and fit to accept the fact that even their daily tasks are becoming cumbersome. It’s depressing to lose mobility and to accept the limitations of what was once a dependable body. Quality of life is most often measured by quality of health. When that precious gift is taken away, most will do anything to regain it.
The Arthritis Foundation recommends the following basic tips for slowing down the progression of this disease:
- Keep moving and exercise. Do stretches, walk, lift weights, try yoga or Tai Chi, bike, or for an excellent non-weight bearing aerobic workout–swim. Keep the blood flowing and the joints limber, but be sure not to exercise to the point of pain.
- Maintain a good body weight. Obesity is a huge risk factor in developing arthritis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, losing just one pound of body weight can reduce four pounds of pressure on the joints.
When the going gets tougher, get a doctor. Most individuals begin with a primary care physician who will often refer them to a physical therapist or to an orthopedic specialist. Diagnostic tests, which will pinpoint the severity of the disease, are often indicated and the test results will determine the best course of action to take. Those individuals who prefer a holistic medicine approach, may want to visit a chiropractor, or an acupuncturist. Massages are often helpful and very relaxing.
For those who wish to alleviate their pain with non-prescription medications, some things to try are using hot and/or cold compresses; topical arthritis creams and ointments; wrists and ankle braces; and over- the-counter medications such as ASPIRIN® products. Glucosamine with Chondroitin and MSM seem to help arthritis sufferers although most scientific studies don’t support their effectiveness.
When pain becomes more severe, doctors will often prescribe drugs for pain or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications better known as NSAIDS. Two brand names are Celebrex and Mobic. Doctors can also recommend cortisone shots or epidurals, which will reduce pain and improve flexibility for a few months.These remedies, however, can produce side effects and must be taken with caution.
Joint Replacement Surgery
When arthritis sufferers have tried most everything, and the specter of walking with a cane or sitting in a wheelchair looms ahead, it’s time to consider surgery.There have been many advances in knee, hip and even shoulder replacements. In fact, these surgeries are becoming more and more commonplace.
The least invasive surgical techniques are constantly being studied and perfected, which lessens recuperation time for the patient. Joint replacement surgery is always followed by weeks of physical therapy, which also hastens the healing process.
After they have had surgery, arthritis patients can once again discover the joy of knees, hips and backs that are pain free. These bionic men and women can now kick up their heels and get on with life.