One of the major complaints in patients seeking the help of a physiotherapist is arthritis. There are over 100 types of arthritis, but only two types are most common – rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA). The latter, the more prevalent type, is a degenerative disease that leads to pain, swelling and stiffness of the joint, as the cartilage wears down and the cushioning between the bones is removed.
The most common joints affected 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, loss of appetite, pain, swelling and deformity. Before attempting any form of treatment, it is necessary to consult your physician for a proper diagnosis.
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. Rheumatoid arthritis affects more women than men and involves both sides of the body while osteoarthritis involves only one side. With rheumatoid arthritis, treatment may center around medications and treatments that calm the body’s immune system and reduce inflammation. Rest, exercise and splinting may also aid the benefits of these procedures. In some cases strengthening and other modalities may be employed, but these should only be administered by a trained professional.
Treatment for osteoarthritis is generally aimed at managing the pain, improving function in everyday activities and slowing the progression of the disease. Topical analgesics such as creams, gels and other ointments are used as the first line of defense. NSAIDS like ibuprofen and Advil may be advised. We may also use treatments like TENS, ultrasound, massage and cold therapy. 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 without putting too much stress on the joints. Surgery may be the only option in severe cases.
Exercise is recommended when flare-ups are not present. Walking is usually a good form of exercise as well as stretching exercises such as yoga and tai chi. In recent times aqua therapy has gained some notice as a means of reducing joint pain and this forms part of some physiotherapy clinics. In addition to the right type of exercise, a change in diet may prove helpful. One that helps in weight loss will do wonders for the arthritis sufferer. Switching fats from Omega- 6 fatty acid to Omega-3 can be helpful.
Limiting the intake of beef and poultry and adding more fresh-water fish such as mackerel, salmon and trout and substituting olive, canola and flaxseed oil with corn, safflower and sunflower may help. Drinking 3 to 4 cups of green tea have also been known to relieve the pain of RA. And do not discount the benefits of drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day. Supplements such as ASU (avocado-soybean unsaponifiable), Bromelain and glucosamine and chondroitin are proven to assist in cartilage repair in osteoarthritis and relieve the pain of rheumatoid arthritis.
With this and other advice given by your doctor and physiotherapist, the arthritis sufferer can learn to live comfortably with a disease that would otherwise be crippling.