Mar 12thMary B
Jo Cumming at Arthritis Care describes the symptoms and treatment of arthritis. Arthritis is the UK's biggest single cause of physical disability and affects nine million people of all ages. At least 8.5 million people have a degenerative form of arthritis called osteoarthritis, which usually affects people over the age of 40. What is 'arthritis'? 'Arthritis' is inflammation within a joint and is a general term for around 200 musculoskeletal conditions affecting bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissue. The two main groups are 'inflammatory' - like rheumatoid arthritis and gout - and 'degenerative' like osteoarthritis (OA) which appears mainly in people aged over 40 or in younger people with joints already damaged by injury or disease. What is osteoarthritis? Osteoarthritis is an incurable condition involving the breakdown of cartilage, the cushioning material between adjoining bones. In healthy joints, cartilage provides a slippery surface over which bones glide smoothly. With osteoarthritis, this cushion becomes brittle and thin so the bones grate painfully against each other, developing unwanted 'bony spurs', which deform the joint, causing pain, stiffness and inhibiting movement. Why do people get osteoarthritis? The causes of osteoarthritis are unclear. However, it occurs more commonly and often more severely in women. A genetic element means that family history can indicate susceptibility. A 'lifestyle' component is also significant in what triggers or accelerates cartilage loss - age, obesity, previous injury, and a demanding physical occupation which misuses or over-uses certain joints are all factors in the development of osteoarthritis. What are the symptoms? The main symptoms are pain, stiffness, fatigue, restricted movement and impaired mobility. Osteoarthritis in the fingers, thumbs and wrists, weakens grip, making everyday tasks hard. When load-bearing joints like knees, hips, spine, and ankles are affected, it can make walking difficult. How is osteoarthritis diagnosed? If you think you may have arthritis, make an appointment to see your GP. He or she may refer you for tests to determine whether your condition is inflammatory or degenerative. Inflammatory arthritis may mean referral to a rheumatologist, whereas people with osteoarthritis usually remain in the care of the GP. What treatment is available? Many people with osteoarthritis need pain relief and take analgesics like paracetemol to remain active. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) like diclofenac and ibuprofen - available as gels or tablets - are also useful in reducing stiffness and pain, while a steroid injection may curb a flare-up in a single joint. Physiotherapy and hydrotherapy exercises treat stiffness and improve mobility. Podiatrists and chiropodists provide foot care and advise on soft-uppered shoes, special insoles, and bunion pads. However, severe osteoarthritis can damage joints to the extent that surgery might be needed. Nowadays, such surgery is widely available - hip, knee, spine, shoulder, wrist, elbow, ankle joints can all be replaced. Can I help myself? Anyone diagnosed with osteoarthritis needs to think about how to make the most of living with the condition long term. This means getting correct treatment and support from health professionals, informing yourself about your condition, and evolving self-management strategies to help you live better with arthritis. Self-management involves following principles of good diet, good exercise, good posture, and positive attitude: planning, prioritising and pacing tasks, reorganising your house and life to ensure your limited energy is used productively. How can Arthritis Care help? Arthritis Care is the only UK charity supporting people with arthritis in any of its 200 forms. It has around 300 UK branches, and offers free services: Challenging Arthritis courses, Helplines, online peer-support and discussion forums, workshops, and medically-reviewed and impartial information. For further details of living with arthritis, visit Arthritis Care's website http://www.arthritiscare.org.uk/Home or call its free and confidential helpline on 0808 800 4050, 10am-4pm weekdays. Take control of arthritis pain - five top tips 1.Lighten Up: Shed excess pounds to reduce stress on weight-bearing joints, like back, hips, and knees 2.Don't suffer in silence: Your GP needs to know that you are in pain, and what kind in order to find you an effective treatment or refer you to a pain management specialist 3.The Ex Factor: Exercise releases the body's own natural ‘morphine' in the form of endorphins so appropriate exercise really can make you feel better 4.Chuck out the chintz! Have a look at your furniture and decide if your bed and chairs are helping your pain or making it worse 5.Doctor Gadget: Look in Arthritis News and catalogues for self-help products designed to make everyday tasks easier. Occupational therapists, physiotherapists, ergonomists and doctors can suggest helpful work or home devices.
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