Arthritis is a medical condition in which the body's joints are damaged and inflamed. This can cause discomfort, stiffness, and pain, and this pain can range from mild to severe. While typically associated with ageing, anyone of any age can experience arthritis, and while there is no cure for the underlying causes, the symptoms can be well-managed.
The term Arthritis refers to a constellation of medical conditions that affect the joints in the body. A joint is any location where two separate bones articulate with each other, and the physical nature of this articulation produces movement due to the action of muscles. Arthritis refers to inflammation of the joints (arthron = joint, itis = inflammation of).
One major form of Arthritis is Osteoarthritis, which can affect the large and small joints of the body including joints in the hands, hips, spine, and knees. Osteoarthritis is the result of wear and tear of the joint, as well as injury. In Osteoarthritis, the cartilage in joints becomes worn down and underlying bone may be exposed. This can cause pain on weightbearing, movement, and during rest.
Osteoarthritis is worsened by heavy lifting, repetitive kneeling or squatting, and there is also a familial element to this disease as well. If your parents had osteoarthritis, you may be at increased risk of experiencing it yourself. Typical symptoms of osteoarthritis are pain and inflammation of the tissues in and around the affected joints. Additionally, the cartilage within the joints may become worn down, which increases the friction with which bones move against each other, and can even result in the weardown of those bones. Osteoarthritis typically occurs in weightbearing joints which move a lot through the day, so it is typically experienced in the lower back, the hips, the knees, and sometimes the neck. However, Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body, so it is a good idea to be vigilant.
Osteoarthritis is often felt in weightbearing joints like the knees and the spine, causing them to become increasingly worn like the columns of a Greek temple.
Another form of Arthritis is Rheumatoid Arthritis. In Rheumatoid Arthritis, the body's own immune system starts to attack its own tissues. This attack is not only directed at the joint but toward many different body tissues. In Rheumatoid Arthritis, there is similar joint surface weardown that appears in Osteoarthritis. Bone erosion is a central feature of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Bone continuously undergoes remodeling which may cause joints to swell and become stiffer and more restricted. The causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis are unknown at this time, but lifestyle factors such as regular exercise can minimise the severity of symptoms.
While Osteoarthritis affects weightbearing joints more than others, Rheumatoid Arthritis can affect the small joints between fingers as well as larger joints. The symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis develop gradually, and they can often be felt alongside muscle stiffness and pain. Rheumatoid Arthritis can flare up, meaning that you may experience periods of time where your symptoms are more severe than otherwise. You may experience pain, stiffness, warmth and redness of the affected joints, as well as fatigue, fever, loss of energy and weightloss. These other symptoms are a consequence of the auto-immune nature of the disease affecting tissues and organs that are not joints.
Rheumatoid Arthritis affects small joints like those in the hands. For this reason, it can have a disproportionate impact and cause significant disability for sufferers.
Arthritis is best addressed through a combination treatment which will involve your doctor, your physiotherapist, a specialist if needed, and your family. Arthritis is a disease that has the potential to impact many dimensions of your life, including mobility, independence, and community participation. For this reason, it is important to discuss how Arthritis impacts these aspects of your life, so your clinical team can help you comprehensively.
Management and assessment of Arthritic Pain depends on the cause of the pain, how it feels and changes over the day, what makes it better or worse, and the length of time the pain has persisted. Simple strategies include gentle stretching of sore joints with a view to relieving the pain, as well as using hot or cold packs for a little temporary relief. Effective pain medication includes anti-inflammatory medication if appropriate, or prescription medication if recommended by a physician.
A physiotherapist can assess the nature of a person's Arthritic pain, determine the most likely factors leading to and aggravating that pain, as well as minimise that pain and promote a healthy recovery. Once the pain has been minimised, the physiotherapist will prescribe and monitor a program of individual exercises to best address any functional or muscular weaknesses that may cause a flare-up in the future. Once the pain and the weakness has been managed, the physiotherapist will continue to monitor the patient and amend their exercise program accordingly to ensure continued benefits from their exercises and management.
At Atlas Physio, we will provide you with education, structured management, and ongoing monitoring of your pain both in and out of the clinic. Contact us to arrange an assessment, and to take the first step on a course of corrective care today.