Every week we share a blog from Healthily – our preferred health partner – to give you tips, advice and guidance on a wide variety of health conditions. As World Arthritis Day approaches (12th October 2021), we wanted to share an article that sheds light on this common condition, offering guidance as to how you can continue to live well with arthritis. We will be sharing more information relating to arthritis as the day approaches, so keep your eyes peeled for more informative pieces on this topic.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in a joint. In the UK, around 10 million people have arthritis. It might surprise you to know that it affects people of all ages, including children.
The 2 most common types of arthritis are:
Osteoarthritis most often develops in adults who are in their late 40s or older. It’s also more common in women and people with a family history of the condition. However, it can occur at any age as a result of an injury or be associated with other joint-related conditions, such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis initially affects the smooth cartilage lining of the joint. This makes movement more difficult than usual, leading to pain and stiffness.
Once the cartilage lining starts to roughen and thin out, the tendons and ligaments have to work harder. This can cause swelling and the formation of bony spurs called osteophytes.
Severe loss of cartilage can lead to bone rubbing on bone, changing the shape of the joint and forcing the bones out of their normal position.
The most commonly affected joints are those in the:
Rheumatoid arthritis often starts when a person is between 40 and 50 years old. Women are 3 times more likely to be affected than men.
It occurs when the body’s immune system targets affected joints, which leads to pain and swelling.
The outer covering (synovium) of the joint is the first place affected. This can then spread across the joint, leading to further swelling and a change in the joint’s shape. This may cause the bone and cartilage to break down.
People with rheumatoid arthritis can also develop problems with other tissues and organs in their body.
Symptoms of arthritis
The symptoms of arthritis you experience will vary depending on the type you have.
This is why it’s important to have an accurate diagnosis if you have:
- joint pain, tenderness and stiffness
- inflammation in and around the joints
- restricted movement of the joints
- warm, red skin over the affected joint
- weakness and muscle wasting.
There’s no cure for arthritis, but there are many treatments that can help slow down the condition.
For osteoarthritis, medications are often prescribed, including:
In severe cases, the following surgical procedures may be recommended:
- arthroplasty (joint replacement)
- arthodesis (joint fusion)
- osteotomy (where a bone is cut and re-aligned)
Read more about how osteoarthritis is treated.
Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis aims to slow down the condition’s progress and minimise joint inflammation or swelling. This is to try and prevent damage to the joints. Recommended treatments include:
- analgesics (painkillers)
- disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) – a combination of treatments is often recommended
- regular exercise.
Read more about how rheumatoid arthritis is treated.
Living with arthritis
Living with arthritis isn’t easy and carrying out simple, everyday tasks can often be painful and difficult.
However, there are many things you can do to make sure you live a healthy lifestyle. A range of services and benefits are also available.
It’s very important to eat a healthy, balanced diet if you have arthritis. Eating healthily will give you all the nutrients you need and help you maintain a healthy weight.
Your diet should consist of a variety of foods from all 5 food groups. These are:
- fruit and vegetables
- starchy foods – such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta
- meat, fish, eggs and beans
- milk and dairy foods
- foods containing fat and sugar
If you’re overweight, losing weight can really help you cope with arthritis. Too much weight places excess pressure on the joints in your hips, knees, ankles and feet, leading to increased pain and mobility problems.
If your arthritis is painful, you may not feel like exercising. However, being active can help reduce and prevent pain. Regular exercise can also:
- improve your range of movement and joint mobility
- increase muscle strength
- reduce stiffness
- boost your energy
- As long as you do the right type and level of exercise for your condition, your arthritis won’t get any worse. Combined with a healthy, balanced diet, regular exercise will help you lose weight and reduce strain on your joints.
Your doctor can advise about the type and level of exercise that’s right for you.
If you have arthritis, it’s important to look after your joints so there’s no further damage. For example, try to reduce the stress on your joints while carrying out everyday tasks like moving and lifting.
Some tips for protecting your joints, particularly if you have arthritis, include:
- use larger, stronger joints as levers – for example, take the pressure of opening a heavy door on your shoulder rather than on your hand
- use several joints to spread the weight of an object – for example, use both hands to carry your shopping or distribute the weight evenly in a shoulder bag or rucksack
- don’t grip too tightly – grip as loosely as possible or use a padded handle to widen your grip
- It’s also important to avoid sitting in the same position for long periods of time and to take regular breaks so you can move around.
If you have arthritis, carrying out tasks around the home can be a challenge. However, making some practical changes to your home and changing the way you work should make things easier.
Practical tips that could help include:
- keeping things in easy reach
- using a handrail to help you get up and down the stairs
- using long-handled tools to pick things up or to clean
- fitting levers to taps to make them easier to turn
- using electric kitchen equipment, such as tin openers, when preparing food
- Occupational therapy
- An occupational therapist can help if you have severe arthritis that’s affecting your ability to move around your home and carry out everyday tasks, such as cooking and cleaning.
An occupational therapist can help if you have severe arthritis that’s affecting your ability to move around your home and carry out everyday tasks, such as cooking and cleaning.
They can advise about equipment you may need to help you live independently.
Depending on the exact nature of your condition, your doctor may be able to refer you to an occupational therapist.
Read more about occupational therapy.
You can read the full article in the Healthily Health Library where it was originally published.
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