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Understanding Arthritis

Arthritis is often referred to as a single condition. However, it can be a component in over 100 conditions that affect 46 million adults and 300,000 children in the U.S., the Arthritis Foundation reports. It can range from mild to debilitating and affect more than just joints. Systemic forms can affect virtually any organ in the body. This article will be focused on the most common form, Osteoarthritis (OA), with a brief discussion of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).

Osteoarthritis, affecting more than 27 million Americans, is characterized by pain, stiffness (especially in the morning and with certain activities), and break down of joint cartilage. OA can lead to joint deformation and bone spurring especially in the hands. There are two types of OA, Primary and Secondary. Primary osteoarthritis is what we tend to associate with getting older. Contrary to popular belief, OA is not a side effect of aging. If it were strictly age related, all joints in your body would be affected equally. However, you are more likely to develop OA the older you are due to more wear and tear on joints. Secondary osteoarthritis occurs in a joint that has been injured either from direct trauma or obesity. Either way both forms of OA are caused by increase stress on a joint.

The Arthritis Foundation lists five risk factors for developing OA:

  • Age: As we age, there are more opportunity for wear and tear
  • Obesity: An increase in one pound of body weight adds four pounds of pressure to the knees and six times the pressure on your hips
  • Injury and Overuse (and even Underuse): Previous injuries and repetitive motions increase your risk of developing OA, as does an overly sedentary lifestyle; your joints require motion in order to stay lubricated and healthy
  • Genetics: There is evidence to suggest that genetics may predispose someone to developing OA.  However, that does not mean that it is inevitable.  If OA seems to “run in your family”, living a healthy lifestyle and following the recommendations in this edition of Wellness News You Can Use may help you to avoid OA
  • Muscle Weakness: Some studies suggest that weak muscles surrounding a joint may increase your chances of developing OA, which means that outside of all the other obvious reasons, it’s important to engage in weight bearing strengthening exercises

You might be wondering, “What’s the difference between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis”. We already discussed that OA is due to excessive stress on a joint. RA is an autoimmune disease by which the body’s immune system begins to attack certain tissues, specifically the synovial membranesthat line most of the joints in your body. RA can also be systemic, meaning it can result in inflammation of organs throughout the body. The risk factors are different for RA; women are more likely than men to develop RA and tend to develop the disease between 30 and 60, where as the small percentage of men with RA develop the disease around 60. RA also affects an estimated 300,000 children in its juvenile form.

The symptoms of both OA and RA may be medically treated with analgesics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids. However, RA may be treated even more aggressively with immunosuppressive drugs that decrease the body’s immune response, thus limiting damage to the joints and other affected tissues. In some cases, especially with OA surgery and joint replacement may be necessary.

Standard medical treatments are harsh, especially those for RA. Because RA is an autoimmune disease, the drugs used to alleviate symptoms will hinder the body’s immune system, thereby making your body much more susceptible to illness, disease, and infection, compounding the strain on your body’s ability to function and heal properly. Before those measures are taken, many safer and effective treatments can be used:

  1. Exercise— weight-bearing exercise can be done with many states of arthritis, and in some cases, can stop or reverse damage. Try circuit training, swimming, walking, and other activities with low impact
  2. Massage Therapy— improve the relationship between bone and muscle with regular massage therapy. This will relieve tension and uneven distribution of weight and pressure, and help flush fluid build-up around joints
  3. Acupuncture— this all-natural method of pain relief reduces many other sources of inflammation (the “itis” in “arthritis”) by balancing all energetic pathways in the body
  4. Dietary Changes— many foods either cause inflammation or will make it far worse. Grains are the biggest culprit. Try eliminating them from your diet for at least 30 days
  5. and of course, Chiropractic!— who better to work with joints and the skeleton than a doctor trained to do just that? Dr. Ranae does adjust extremities, including ankles, knees, wrists, elbows, and more, so be sure to discuss your symptoms with her during your next adjustment!

*Thanks to LearningCurves.us for portions of this article!

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