Around 10 million people in the UK have a form of arthritis, a disease that causes inflammation and stiffness in joints. This article will cover what you need to know about arthritis, as well as going through what you can do to help your symptoms, enabling you to continue doing the things you love.
Osteoarthritis (osteo – relating to bone) is the degeneration of joint cartilage and underlying bone, and is the most common form of arthritis that occurs over the age of 45. The joints most frequently affected are the knee, hip and hand.
Signs and symptoms of an arthritic joint are:
- Pain (generally worse on movement and towards the end of the day)
- Stiffness (more so in the morning and after a prolonged rest)
- A feeling of grinding or creaking
- Osteophytes (a bony projection) can sometimes be felt
- Muscle wasting around the affected joint
- Restricted movement in the joint
- Disturbed sleep (from severe pain)
- Problems walking
There are several possible causes for a joint to become arthritic. Being over 40 is linked to the development of arthritis due to muscle weakening and a slower healing rate – our body becomes less able to repair damaged bone areas. Being overweight will increase the load taken through the joints and affect joint stability – this can alter how you walk and lead to muscle weakness. Trauma to a joint can lead the development of arthritis later in life. Other factors such as your genetics, gender and other medical history are also linked to arthritis.
What a lot of people don’t know, is that osteoarthritis is actually a type of natural repair process. In our body, the cells and minerals that make up our bones are constantly being replaced and renewed to improve bone structure, repair damage and bone growth. This is called osteogenesis and is a well-balanced process. However, when minor trauma occurs (e.g. a small knock, altered weight-bearing, repetitive stresses); osteoarthritis compensates the replacement and renewal process, leaving a structurally altered but symptom-free joint. It is only when the trauma is significant (e.g. a fracture), that the process of osteoarthritis cannot compensate, potentially leading to the above symptoms in the future.
Osteoarthritis is often diagnosed in the primary care setting by your GP. Your GP will listen to your symptoms and examine the joint in question. To confirm the diagnosis, you may be sent for an x-ray to examine the bone and joint structure in more details (such as in the picture below), or have a blood test to rule out other types of joint disease. It is important to remember that degree of osteoarthritis does not always match up to the severity of your symptoms, so your GP will take this into account when discussing treatment and management.
There are lots of things that you can do to help with your symptoms:
- Taking pain relief regularly – either prescribed by your GP or from your local pharmacist
- Keeping active – there are a lot of false beliefs that exercise will wear out the joint more, but keeping active will increase muscle strength, blood flow and joint lubrication
- Using ice on a swollen joint for 15-20 minutes, regularly throughout the day
- Using heat on a stiff, aching joint for 15-20 minutes, regularly throughout the day
- Modifying activities that aggravate your sore joint (e.g. using your other hand, adjusting your exercise routine, moving items to lower shelves)
- Adjust your desk and driving position to place the joints of the lower limb in a better posture
- Self-massage of tight or aching muscles around the joint
- Use of braces, supports or taping techniques
- Stress-management techniques
- Seek physiotherapy or osteopathy advice for specific exercise prescription and rehabilitation, along with other manual therapy techniques
- Try holistic therapies such as acupuncture
The main thing to remember is that you will not make the osteoarthritis in your joint any worse, and it should not prevent you from doing the things you enjoy. Having a management strategy can help you lead a full and pain-free life.
If you suffer from arthritis or have worries please book an appointment to see one of Woodside Clinic’s Osteopaths or Physiotherapists on advice on self-management or use of acupuncture.