WHAT IS ARTHRITIS
Arthritis is defined as pain, swelling and stiffness in a joint. It can affect adults as well as children and approximately 10 million people are thought to have a diagnosis of arthritis. The most common form of arthritis is Osteoarthritis. This is thought to be caused by our bodies natural wear and repair process. Basically if we overload a joint too often this can cause the thin cartilage over the top of the bone to wear down and be replaced by extra bone. This can lead to stiffness and pain. The pain can then lead to a further reduction in strength which can cause a progression of this cycle. The important point to remember is that if we strengthen the muscles around the arthritic joint this should help support it and improve function.
WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR
It’s common to have aches and pains in your muscles and joints from time to time. This may especially be true if you take part in unusual or strenuous physical activities.
If you have swelling or stiffness that you can’t explain and that won’t go away in a few days, or if it becomes painful to touch your joints, you should see a doctor. The earlier you get a diagnosis and start the right type of treatment, the better the outcome will be.
Here are some other things to think about that might help you decide whether you need to see a doctor:
1. Symptoms not related to injury or activity
2. Swelling with no injury
3. Normal daily function effected
As previously mentioned Osteoarthritis (the wear and repair arthritis) is by far the most common type, affecting 8.75 million people in the UK. There are other types which will need a different management plan to just strengthening the muscles surrounding the joint.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) - this is a type of inflammatory arthritis and is known as an autoimmune condition. This basically means that our defense mechanism (immune system) mistakenly starts to attack the bodies healthy tissue and joints causing inflammation. Extra fluid in the joints caused by this excess inflammation can cause stiffness and pain. Common signs of RA include 1. swelling and stiffness in the morning for more than 1 hour, 2. severe tiredness, 3. swelling in the small joints (hand and feet). It tends to start in your 40's and is more common in women. If you suspect that you have this condition it is important to get reviewed by your doctor.
Gout - this is another inflammatory arthritis and causes red, painful swelling in the joints typically affecting the big toe and knee. It is caused by having too much urate in the body which can be as a result of eating and drinking high amounts of saturated fat, red meat and alcohol. It is more common in men and usually starts after their mid 20's. If you suspect this condition you should see your doctor urgently.
Psoriatic Arthritis - this is another autoimmune condition causing pain and stiffness around a joint. Another sign of this is a red scaly rash called Psoriasis. The rash commonly affects the elbows, knees, back and scalp. If you suspect this condition then you should speak to your GP.
Juvenile Arthritis - This is when an inflammatory arthritis is diagnosed before a child's 16th birthday. The earlier this is spotted the better that is can be managed. So if you or a family member are under 16 with joint pain, swelling and stiffness it is best to see your doctor to get this assessed.
WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP
As well as medical treatments, there are many things you can do to help yourself manage your arthritis.
You might not always feel like exercising if you have arthritis. And you might be worried that exercising will make your pain or your condition worse.
However, exercise can make symptoms such as pain and swelling better. There are several reasons why this is the case:
Your muscles will become stronger. This will provide better support to the joint.
Your joints will become supple and less likely to become stiff.
Your joints will be able to maintain their range of movement.
Exercise improves your overall health and fitness and can help you maintain a healthy weight.
Exercise leads to the release of chemicals in the body called endorphins. These are painkillers produced naturally by the body. Releasing them into the blood through exercise can make you feel good.
Exercising regularly can help you get good sleep, which can help the body repair itself.
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