What is Arthritis?
The word arthritis means inflammation of a joint. There are many different types of arthritis of which the most common are Osteoarthritis (OA) and Rheumatoid Arthritis (Rh.A or RA).
It is important that the distinction between these two conditions is fully understood, as the treatment and prognosis (outcome), for each is very different.
We will start with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Rh.A is primarily an inflammation of the synovial membrane covering the joint. (This membrane is responsible for secreting the fluids that lubricate the joint in normal use).
Sufferers of Rheumatoid Arthritis are often left with the condition of Osteoarthritis even if their other symptoms subside.
How can I tell if I have Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rh.A tends to be symmetrical - affecting both knees, wrists, hands or shoulders etc. and often arrives suddenly with several painful, "hot" and swollen joints. Mornings stiffness can be severe and lasts longer than with OA.
You may also feel generally unwell with "flu type" symptoms, loss of appetite, achy muscles, or even dry or red eyes.
Rh.A can occur at any age and is more commonly found in women than in men. The diagnosis is not always obvious at first and it may be some time before the symptoms sufficiently manifest themselves to suggest the problem.
The only way to be sure that you have Rh.A is to have a blood test, so a visit to the G.P. may be advisable.
What are the causes of Rh.A?
The causes are not yet fully understood; we know that the disease involves a breakdown of the autoimmune system, so there may be an inherited predisposition or possibly an inherited susceptibility to viral attack. Hopefully, research will one day answer this question.
So can arthritis be cured?
Not Really. To cure means to restore to 'perfect' or a pre-disease condition and I am afraid this is not possible.
Can my Rh.A be treated?
Physical treatment is not recommended for sufferers of Rh.A when the 'disease' is in its 'active phase'. However, after the acute inflammatory processes have died down, treatment may be considered for the residual stiffness and to help reduce permanent loss of mobility.
Osteopathic treatment for an Rh.A sufferer during the 'inactive phases' is aimed at improving the range of pain free movement, so that the problem will be less noticeable and life more normal. In many cases tight muscles surrounding the affected joints exacerbate the pain, and reducing this tightness can substantially relieve the discomfort.
Another aim of treatment is to strengthen the muscles around the joint to afford better support for the future.
Your doctor will prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs that will help the symptoms, but you should also consider other forms of help for this, such as acupuncture or homoeopathic treatment, which can often be helpful.
Do copper bracelets help?
There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that wearing a copper bracelet should help arthritic sufferers. However, a great many people swear that it helps; it certainly can't do any harm and may engender some sympathy from others.
How can I help myself?
Don't ignore your pain! Slow down or rest, especially if the pain persists for more than an hour after activity or if an affected joint swells up. Remember - if you try to do too much at once you'll end up having to rest for longer! (Fatigue is one of the symptoms of chronic Arthritis).
Severe pain after activity may be helped by the application of an ice pack (try frozen peas); wrap in a damp cloth and apply several times for a few minutes each time. On the other hand, mild stiffness after rest is best relieved with a hot water bottle.
Gentle non-weight-bearing exercise is helpful and might include hydrotherapy. The exact nature of exercise required depends on your age and condition and which area(s) are affected - ask for advice.
AVOID BECOMING OVERWEIGHT
Ensure that your family, friends, and workmates understand your problems, as the pain and stiffness can make you frustrated and irritable. You may need more help sometimes than others.
Is there a dietary link?
Obviously the better health you have the better your body can cope with any disorder, so a good diet is important. There is no evidence that diet plays any part in causing Arthritis but if you are overweight there will be more strain on your joints (especially of the back and lower limbs). Many sufferers have reported an improvement in their condition if they avoid certain foods. Others report no change, so this is inconclusive. Many books are available on this subject and could be worth reading.
Should I take vitamins?
Again - good nutrition helps you to cope better. However, Glucosamine, which helps cartilage and ligament nutrition, is an increasingly popular supplement that has had some good scientific support.
Every patent remedy for arthritis has helped some people, (Cod liver oil which contains vitamin D and helps you to absorb calcium is an old favourite) but none of them help everyone. It depends on your personal deficiencies - ask your therapist or in the chemist or health food shop.
Why am I worse in wet weather?
It is thought that the reduction in barometric air pressure is responsible for increased joint pain. Possibly because the fluid pressure inside the joints is temporarily higher than the surrounding air pressure and so they become slightly more swollen.
Another factor is that you may feel generally less cheerful on wet and windy days and so be less able to ignore the usual amount of discomfort.
Does it help to 'rub something in'?
There are some modern anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving creams which some patients find give temporary relief - ask your chemist for advice (do not use these if you suffer from asthma).
There are also a great many 'warming' rubs that some people swear by. These act as a "counter irritant" in the same way as the application of heat or cold to the area, i.e. they send messages of warm or cold along the nerves from the affected part to the brain and this 'blocks out' some of the pain signals.
What is Gout?
Gout is another form of arthritis characterised by the sudden appearance of an acutely painful red swelling. Often occurring in the big toe, it can also affect other areas such as the elbow, and is found mainly in the middle aged to elderly patient, especially men.
The inflammation in this case is due to the presence of urate crystals. A tendency to form these crystals is usually inherited, but an attack can be triggered by a strict weight loss diet or by taking diuretic tablets for another complaint such as high blood pressure.
Your doctor can take a blood sample to test whether you have Gout and modern medication can control the problem - but you should still try to help yourself.
Incomplete purine metabolism is the basic cause, so diet is very important. (An enzyme found in cherries helps to digest these purines so it could be worth eating up to 1/2 lb per day.) You should try to avoid eating the following: - Meat extracts, Liver, Kidneys, Yeast, Anchovies, Herrings and Sardines.
Drink plenty of water as this can help to avoid the common complication of kidney stones.