Arthritis results in swelling, stiffness, redness, and possible deformity in one or more joints. It can even result in an inability to have the full use of the affected joint.
Numerous forms of arthritis exist, but the most common two are osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. These conditions can affect the body’s movable joints in the knees, wrists, elbows, fingers, toes, hips, and shoulders, as well as the bones of the spine in the neck and back.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is the inflammation of one or more joints. A joint is where two bones come together. Their surfaces are covered with a layer of smooth, rubbery, blue-white tissue called cartilage. A fluid-filled capsule made up of a tough, fibrous tissue called ligaments surrounds these bones and cartilage. Thanks to this liquid and the cartilage that covers the end of these bones, the bones within the joint normally glide smoothly past one another.
If anything goes wrong with any of these parts of a joint, arthritis can result. The swelling and deformity that takes place in arthritic joints can result from the thickening of the membrane, the fluid, enlargement of the bones, or some combination of these factors.
Osteoarthritis is caused when the cartilage that lines the surface of the joints wears away and you’re left with worn surfaces. As a result, the joints become stiff and painful. The joints make popping and clicking noises.
Rheumatoid arthritis involves inflammation and swelling of the joints rather than a wearing away of the cartilage. It is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system reacts against itself and the fluid that lubricates the joints become inflamed. The cartilage and tissues in and around the joints are damaged or destroyed. Often the bones are destroyed as well. The body replaces this damaged tissue with scar tissue, causing the normal spaces within the joints to become narrow and the bones to fuse together. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect all the body’s joints. Joints affected make noises like crinkling cellophane.
Gout is an example of an acute form of inflammatory arthritis. Acute means something that comes on suddenly and is of limited duration. Deposits of crystallized uric acid form in the joint causing swelling, redness and a sensation of heat and extreme pain. It usually affects the big toe, but other joints may be affected as well. One of the indicators of gout is raised uric acid levels.
Arthritis can also be caused by a bacterial, viral or fungal infection of a joint. Usually, the infecting organism travels to the joint through the bloodstream from an infection elsewhere in the body, but injury or even surgery can result in joint infection as well. Symptoms not only include the pain and tenderness affecting the joint but also include symptoms of systemic infections such as fever, chills and body aches.
Helpful tips for managing arthritis
Avoid foods you are allergic to. After you eat, notice how your body feels. If you notice particular foods cause a non-optimum reaction, cut them out of your diet.
According to Healthline.com, there are 8 types of foods to avoid if you have arthritis:
- Added sugars, because sugar can increase inflammation, which may increase arthritis symptoms.
- Processed and red meats because some research links red and processed meats to inflammation, which may increase arthritis symptoms. Conversely, plant-based diets that exclude red meat have been shown to improve arthritis symptoms.
- Highly processed foods, like fast food, breakfast cereals and baked goods, as they contained refined grains, added sugar, preservatives, and other potentially inflammatory ingredients, all of which may worsen arthritis symptoms.
- Foods containing gluten. Gluten is a group of proteins in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Some research links it to increased inflammation and suggests that going gluten-free may ease arthritis symptoms.
- Alcohol, as alcohol may worsen arthritis symptoms. Anyone with inflammatory arthritis should restrict or avoid it.
- Vegetable oils. Diets high in omega-6 fats and low in omega-3 fats may worsen symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. These fats are necessary for health. However, the imbalanced ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s in most Western diets may increase inflammation. Reducing your intake of foods high in omega-6 fats, such as vegetable oils, while increasing your intake of omega-3-rich foods like fatty fish may improve arthritis symptoms.
- Foods high in salt. Researchers have suggested that high sodium intake may be a risk factor for autoimmune diseases like inflammatory arthritis.
- Foods high in AGEs. Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are molecules created through reactions between sugars and proteins or fats. They naturally exist in uncooked animal foods and are formed through certain cooking of meats. High protein, high fat animal foods that are fried, roasted, grilled, seared, or broiled are among the richest dietary sources of AGEs. These include bacon, pan-fried or grilled steak, roasted or fried chicken, and broiled hot dogs. When AGEs accumulate in high amounts in your body, oxidative stress and inflammation may occur.
Polyphenols are one of the most potent natural anti-inflammatory agents. Support your dietary efforts with a supplement that provides organic polyphenols.
If you are in discomfort or pain, you may not be in the mood for exercise, but physical activity can help prevent the swelling, stiffness, and pain in the joints. Remember to stretch especially before exercise. Regular walking and stretching can reduce knee joint pain and improve the range of motion.
Get in the habit of walking, swimming, cycling and stretching at least three days per week for 30 minutes per session. If you can’t start with 30 minutes then gradiently increase the amount of time you exercise. If you notice you’re too stiff in the morning, do your exercise later in the afternoon. Stretch before you go to sleep. Get involved in either Tai Chi or yoga, both of which are wonderful for your joints. If you have arthritis in your hands or wrists, buy a sponge ball or putty to exercise your fingers.
Massage Therapy is one of the oldest forms of pain management for arthritis. The amount of pressure that is applied can be adjusted depending on the level of pain. Avoid massaging directly on top of an inflamed joint as this may be too painful for the area. For best results massage just above and just below the joint. Blending essential oils like eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint, rosewood, and wintergreen with a sweet almond oil carrier will make a welcome addition to your massage.
Ideas to help you overcome daily challenges if you are in discomfort or pain
a. Whether in the workshop or in the kitchen, use tools with larger, easier to grip handles, preferably non-slip handles. Even cooking utensils (including forks, knives, and spoons) can be purchased with larger handles for easier control.
b. Convert doorknobs and kitchen & bathroom taps so that they use levers instead of harder to grip round knobs.
c. Use raised seats as they’re easier to get up from and put less strain on knee joints.
d. Instead of using your fingers, use the palms, forearms, or elbows. Close plastic containers with your elbow.
e. Place a strap on refrigerator doors and cupboards. To open, place your forearm through the strap and pull.
f. To wash dishes, use a scrubber that fits over your hand and keeps your fingers straight.
g. Use your hip to close kitchen drawers.
h. Carry your purse on your forearm or use a shoulder bag to avoid putting the strain on your hand.
i. Use splints or wraps that support the wrist, thumbs, and fingers.
j. Use pipe insulation or buy rubber “grips” to put around pens or spoons for easier grip.
May is National Arthritis Month so we hope this article provides some helpful lifestyle tips for those suffering with arthritis.