One of the major complaints in patients seeking the help of a physiotherapist is arthritis. There are over 100 types of arthritis, but the two most common types are rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA). Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that leads to pain, swelling and stiffness of the affected joints, as the cartilage which protects the joints wears down and the cushioning between the bones is removed. The most common joints affected by osteoarthritis are the knees, hips, fingers, neck and back. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body attacks its own immune system, causing flu-like symptoms, as well as pain, swelling and deformity of the affected joints.
There is no known cure for either type of arthritis, however new research into the reasons behind arthritis is bringing hope and relief to many arthritis sufferers. With rheumatoid arthritis, treatment may include medication to help regulate the body’s immune system and reduce inflammation. Rest during acute episodes, therapeutic exercise (including hydrotherapy) in non-acute periods, massage, joint mobilisation, and anti-inflammatory modalities may all assist in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
Treatment for osteoarthritis is generally aimed at managing the pain, improving function in everyday activities and slowing the progression of the disease. Keeping the joints well lubricated through therapeutic exercise as well as joint mobilisation, massage and the use of modalities such as ultrasound and heat may relieve symptoms and prevent further degeneration. Topical analgesic and anti-inflammatory creams and anti-inflammatory medicines like Ibuprofen and Advil are commonly prescribed. Recent studies have shown that consuming concentrated doses of shellfish can help repair and rebuild degenerated cartilage. Daily supplements containing shellfish such as glucosamine are becoming very popular with osteoarthritis sufferers. Splinting may help control pain and increase function for those who suffer with arthritis in the hand. Assistive devices that protect the joint may also relieve pain and arrest further deformity. We can train you to perform activities of daily living and exercises without putting too much stress on the joints. Surgery is sometimes recommended in severe cases.
Walking is usually a good form of exercise as well as stretching exercises such as yoga and Tai chi. Hydrotherapy (therapeutic exercise in warm water) is very effective in reducing arthritic pain and increasing joint mobility and muscular strength. In addition to the right type of exercise, a change in diet may prove helpful. Carrying excess weight adds extra stress to the joints so it is advisable to follow a diet and exercise plan to keep yourself in a healthy weight range. Switching fats from Omega- 6 fatty acid to Omega-3 can be helpful. Adding more fresh water fish such as mackerel, salmon, trout and shellfish may also help. Drinking 3 to 4 cups of green tea is also thought to relieve the pain of rheumatoid arthritis.
With this and other advice given by your doctor and physiotherapist, those with arthritis can be well-equipped to manage their condition.