What is Arthritis?
The word arthritis is used to describe pain, swelling and stiffness in a joint or joints. Arthritis isn’t a single condition and there are several different types. It can also be described as an inflammation of the joints; whether it be in humans, dogs or horses.
It is estimated that around 10 million people in the UK have some form of arthritis (source: Arthritis Action). The most common types are:
– Osteoarthritis (OA) or degenerative joint disease (DJD), is a degenerative or “wear and tear” arthritis; this often affects people, dogs and horses as they get older
– Rheumatoid (RA) which is an autoimmune disease that attacks the joints. The body mistake it’s own protein for foreign protein and tries to eliminate them, usually degrading the cartilage
Inside joints there are bone surfaces which are normally covered with a thin layer of cartilage, these are lubricated with a small amount of joint fluid, which allows the two surfaces to glide over one another with minimum friction. With arthritis, the cartilage within the joint undergoes change or damage, becoming less smooth and resulting in the bone surfaces rubbing together.
Arthritis joint symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. Any joint in the body can be affected by osteoarthritis, but the most common locations are the shoulders, back, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles.
What causes arthritis?
The cartilage in your joints is made of a firm but flexible connective. It absorbs the pressure and shock created when you move, therefore protecting your joints when you put stress on them. Some forms of arthritis are caused by a reduction in the normal amount of cartilage tissue.
OA is one of the most common forms of arthritis, which is caused by normal wear and tear. If there is a history of arthritis in your family, then you may have an increased risk of developing OA. In some cases, the breakdown of cartilage tissue can also be caused by an infection or injury.
RA is an autoimmune disorder, which is another common form of arthritis. It occurs when the tissues of the body are attacked by your body’s immune system. These attacks affect the synovium, a soft tissue in your joints that produces a fluid that lubricates the joints and nourishes the cartilage.
How is arthritis treated?
Whilst there is no cure for osteoarthritis, it’s important to note that the condition doesn’t necessarily get any worse over time. There is a range of treatments that are available to help relieve the symptoms, which include:
- lifestyle – exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight
- medication – which can be used to relieve your pain
- alternative therapies – to help make everyday activities easier there are a number of therapies that can be used to provide support and comfort
- Although there’s no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, early treatment and support is essential for rheumatoid arthritis, as there is no cure. However, lifestyle changes, medication, supportive/alternative treatments and surgery (if necessary) can limit the impact of the condition and reduce the risk of joint damage.
Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis can help reduce inflammation in the joints, prevent or slow joint damage, relieve pain, reduce disability and enable you to live as active a life as possible.
Can arthritis be cured?
As previously outlined, there is currently no cure for arthritis, but there are many treatments that can slow it down. Sadly it’s the case that once cartilage in your joint(s) has been damaged it rarely repairs itself completely.
It’s not all bad news though, as there are many ways that the condition can be managed to ensure that you can be pain-free; whether it’s using prescribed medication, appropriate lifestyle changes or alternative therapies.
Commonly used techniques for arthritic pain relief
NSAID medications are commonly used to treat the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis, post-surgery discomfort, or other pain. There are, however, health risks associated with using NSAIDs for extended periods of time, especially if not used according to directions, or if the person has other health problems. All NSAIDs can cause side effects, the most common being vomiting, loss of appetite, depression, and diarrhoea. More severe side effects include stomach or intestinal ulcers, liver failure, kidney failure, and in some cases even death. In essence, they are not ‘long term solutions’. As public awareness increases, there have been significant improvements in the range of holistic and more natural treatments.