Oh, my aching pain!”
Arthritis Awareness Month, May 2011
By Vivian Takafuji, CMT, MQT, PhD
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a disease of the joints of the body of which over 100 types have been identified. Although not life-threatening, it is the number one cause of disability in the
and can have a dramatic effect on one’s quality of life (Arthritis Foundation, www.arthritis.org). Affecting 350 million people worldwide and over 40 million in the United States , it’s a general misconception that arthritis affects only older adults. The most common form, osteoarthritis, is a wearing-and-tearing of the cartilage of the joint surfaces that can be exacerbated by injury, poor posture, or uneven weight distribution. Rheumatoid arthritis is distinguished by inflammation of the soft tissues of the joint and is linked to an abnormal immune response and may have a genetic component. US
What are the symptoms?
Regardless of the type, the common symptoms of arthritis are pain, limited function of joints, and some degree of inflammation which can result in swelling, reddening, and heat. Chronic inflammation, as seen with the rheumatic forms of arthritis, can result in deformity of the joints and even affect various organs of the body such as the lungs, heart, and kidneys.
How is arthritis treated and managed?
Appropriate treatments depend on the form, location, and severity of the condition, which should be individually customized with the consult of a physician or a health care provider. Rest, heat/cold applications, and topical pain creams (capsaicin, salycin, methyl salicylate, menthol) can assist in the management of mild symptoms. For moderate arthritis, nonprescription (NSAIDs) and prescription pain medications may be helpful. Only in severe cases, joint injections (cortisone, hyaluronic acid), and surgery may be necessary. Arthritis characterized by an overactive immune system (such as rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis) may require medication that suppresses the immune system.
The emphasis for arthritic pain management is to relieve excessive stress on the afflicted joints and restore range of motion. Weight reduction programs and adopting gentle, light-impact activities that improve joint function can be greatly beneficial (such as swimming and easy-paced walking). Qigong/Tai Chi (http://www.nqa.org/) and gentle stretching of tendons/ligaments, if performed regularly, can help to preserve the proper function of the joints. Physical and occupational therapy may provide structural devices or suggest additional gentle strengthening techniques to help patients at work and home for pain management.
For osteoarthritis, food supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin have helped to relieve symptoms for some patients, although controversy abounds in the medical community for its efficacy. Fish oils (omega-3s) have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that may help arthritic conditions.