Arthritis is defined as joint inflammation and is also used to describe dozens of other rheumatic diseases. The term ‘Arthritis’ covers osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus, gout and fibromyalgia, to name but a few. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis and usually affects older people as it is a degenerative condition. However it can affect younger people, particularly if a joint has been injured or is deformed. There is no known cure for osteoarthritis but general wear and tear on the joints is a factor in developing the disease.
Osteoarthritis affects cartilage which covers bone between the joints and acts as a shock absorber. When the cartilage wears out bones rub against each other which can cause excruciating pain. Osteoarthritis attacks people in different ways. It generally develops slowly over the years but in some people it can develop extremely quickly. Sometimes the disease can be quite mild whereas in other cases it can produce a lot of pain and disability. Osteoarthritis frequently occurs in the hands, spine (including the neck and lower back) plus the knees and hips. Symptoms involve pain and stiffness in the joint. In the very early stages of the disease people may only suffer pain after exercise which quickly disappears after rest. As time goes on the pain can become constant and prove particularly debilitating. In its worst form, mobility may be lost. Fortunately, the majority of people are not crippled by osteoarthritis. When treated properly, millions of people live full and active lives for years.
Correct management of the disease is vital. Obviously, in order to treat the disease, doctors need to ascertain that symptoms are, in fact, those of osteoarthritis and not some other illness. In order to diagnose osteoarthritis, as there is no simple test which indicates the presence of the disease, doctors usually carry out several tests. These include a clinical history of the patient, a physical examination, X-rays and often MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging. If the test results prove positive, the doctor will then embark on a programme of pain management. This will vary from person to person, depending on the severity of the pain.
There are many treatments which help to control and lower the pain, plus helping to restore mobility. Good nutrition and rest are an essential part of the treatment in addition to exercise and weight loss. If people are carrying too much weight, then weight loss is crucial as osteoarthritis will aggravate weight-bearing joints such as the hips, knees and spine. Before taking up any form of exercise it is advisable for the patient to discuss the subject with a doctor. The wrong sort of exercise could result in more damage to the joints. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen are usually prescribed for pain relief. The use of heat cushions or ice packs will also often help to reduce pain. Never take alternative or herbal medicines for arthritis without a doctor’s approval. When treating knee joints, a series of injections may be prescribed to reduce pain, under the careful supervision of a doctor. This treatment may not be suitable for all people suffering from painful knee joints. The decision will be made by a doctor. Finally, surgery may be an option in some cases, particularly those concerning the hip as well as other joints. Joint replacement techniques have improved tremendously over the years and, for people suffering constant pain, surgery can provide them with a new lease of life.