The 14th-21st May marks Arthritis Care Awareness Week, a national event that highlights the challenges of this condition and supports people who are suffering.
Arthritis affects over ten million people in the UK. It causes pain, inflammation and stiffness in joints, and, although it is more prominent in those aged 40 and over, it affects people of all ages.
Symptoms may come and go, but at its worst, arthritis can affect mobility, making everyday life a challenge. Although there is no cure for arthritis, effective treatment and lifestyle changes can help to manage its symptoms.
Types of arthritis
Arthritis is an umbrella term for several different conditions. These include osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Other examples are gout, ankylosing spondylitis and spondylosis. Knowing what type of arthritis you have will help you seek the right advice and treatment.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, affecting almost nine million people in the UK alone. It is most prevalent in women. Osteoarthritis commonly affects the hands, knees, hips and back. It is a degenerative condition that usually worsens with age.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune condition, meaning the immune system attacks healthy tissue causing inflammation. It can cause pain, swelling and permanent damage to the joints.
Symptoms of arthritis
Symptoms which may indicate that you have arthritis include:
- Joint pain and tenderness
- Inflammation of the joints
- Restricted movement of the joints
- Warm red skin around the joints
- Muscle weakness and wasting
If you think you have arthritis, you should make an appointment to see your GP. Once you have a diagnosis, you can begin treatment and learn which self-management techniques will help you feel better.
Your doctor may prescribe medicines to treat your arthritis. Alternatively, a combination of therapies may be the most effective way to manage your symptoms.
Example treatments include:
- Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs
- Opioids (codeine or tramadol, for example.)
- Capsaicin cream (a nerve blocker used for hands and knees)
- Steroid injections
- PRP injections (platelet-rich plasma which speeds up the healing process)
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS–a machine which can ease pain by numbing nerve endings)
- Arthroplasty (joint replacement)
Some people prefer to manage their arthritis through natural means, or else they want to supplement their treatment to maximise symptom relief. Don’t forget to check with your doctor before starting alternative therapies, just in case they interact with any medication you’re currently taking.
Weight loss and exercise
Carrying extra weight puts more pressure on your joints. Losing weight could relieve the stress on your joints and prevent further damage. It may also improve your mobility and reduce any pain you’re experiencing.
Exercising will also help by contributing to weight loss and keeping your joints flexible. Stick to low-impact exercises like swimming or water aerobics.
A healthy diet that focusses on whole foods rather than processed foods will help reduce the impact of arthritis.
‘Inflammation fighters’ that you can add to your diet include:
- Oily fish like sardines and salmon are rich in omega-3 which helps fight inflammation
- Cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli and sprouts
- Cherries and cherry juice
Some herbs may help arthritis. However, not all herbal supplements are regulated for quality or safety, and evidence of their effectiveness is generally limited. They may also interfere with your medication so check with your GP before taking anything new.
Herbs which may help are:
- Devil’s claw
Hot and cold treatments
Alternating between hot and cold treatments is recommended to help ease pain. Hot showers or baths can ease stiffness and a heating pad can keep your joints mobile. Gel or ice packs can help relieve swelling and inflammation.
Having a regular massage will not only relax you but also relieve pain and stiffness and improve your range of motion.
Stress can impact arthritis. People may find it harder to cope and it may exacerbate the symptoms. Relaxation techniques such as meditation can reduce stress and the inflammation and pain arthritis causes.
Everyone is different, so finding a solution to reduce the impact of arthritis can mean trying several combinations of medical treatments and natural approaches. Start by maintaining your ideal body weight, keeping active and eating a healthy diet. Take the medication your doctor prescribes, then see what natural treatments help reduce your symptoms and relieve pain. If your arthritis is affecting your quality of life, talk to your doctor about reviewing your treatment.
EBPCOOH is East Berkshire’s out-of-hours medical care provider. You should contact your GP if you’re concerned you may have arthritis, notice new symptoms or think the medicine you’re taking isn’t working.