Arthritis Help: It's a Joint Effort
This winter seems to have been unusually cruel, dumping record amounts of snow and ice across the country, and making hibernation a sport in which most of my friends and family have excelled. The cold made me want to curl up under a blanket for hours at a time, only to find my knees and hips creaking in protest upon standing. My joints seem to have frozen up over the winter just like the many lakes nearby. Is this stiffness the result of a winter of inactivity, or some deeper sign of aging? Shh...arthritis can not be my problem...can it? Let's take a look at what arthritis really means for us as we age. There are 3 main types of arthritis that we are most familiar with:
- Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and is caused when the cartilage covering the ends of our bones is gradually worn away by year of use. The bones then rub together, causing swelling, pain and inflammation. Osteoarthritis typically affects the joints that bear the majority of our weight, such as our hips, knees and our spine, and the joints that get the most use, such as our fingers, hands and wrists.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long lasting disease process, and is caused by the body's immune system attacking itself, causing inflammation in the joints, pain and swelling. RA can eventually damage surrounding tissue and nerves, and mostly affects the hands, knees and wrists, but in some cases, may also affect the skin, lungs and nerves.
- Gout is an age-old term which refers to the body's inability to get rid of excess uric acid, causing crystals to build up in the joints, causing severe pain and swelling. Gout typically affects the big toe, knees and wrist joint.
Arthritis is very common, with as many as 70 million Americans affected by the disease. Symptoms generally include pain, tenderness, swelling, stiffness, redness and warmth, but vary with each type of arthritis and differ with each person who has a form of arthritis. Is arthritis something that we must naturally expect as we age? Age certainly does play a part in the development of arthritis, but other contributing factors include:
- Gender. Sorry girls, but research has shown that women are more likely than men to develop arthritis.
- Obesity. Being overweight puts a greater burden on our weight bearing joints, such as our hips and knees, causing damage to the cartilage and an increased risk for arthritis.
- Work factors. Certain jobs that we perform involve repetitive movements or excess wear and tear on certain joints, which can lead to the development of arthritis.
The future sounds pretty grim for our joints, doesn't it? We may not be able to eliminate certain requirements of our jobs, such as repetitive movements or heavy lifting, and we certainly can't do anything about our gender, but there are some things we can do to lower our risk of arthritis and protect our joints from damage.
Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight creates more wear and tear on our joints, leading to damage, and an increased risk of arthritis.
Exercise daily. Exercise is important to maintain the strength of our bones and joints. Choose exercises that place the least body weight on your joints, such as swimming or stationary cycling. Your doctor or physical therapist can help design an exercise program that's right for you.
Use devices and techniques at work to protect your joints. Use proper lifting procedures and ask your physician for guidance with any types of braces that may help protect your joints while at work. Consider special adaptive devices such as larger handles on utensils, that may make use less painful.
Eat a balanced diet. Having a diet that is rich in calcium, Vitamin D and other essential nutrients will help protect and support our bones and joints.
Stop smoking. Research has shown that smoking increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and may make certain medications to treat RA ineffective.
Knowing that spring is right around the corner helps me ease my creaky knees out of bed each morning, and seems to lighten my step just a bit. Check out the resources listed below for more in depth information on the different types of arthritis, and ways to make living with Rheumatoid Arthritis a little more manageable for you and your loved ones.