The colder months of the year can be miserable for sufferers of Arthritis. The cold and damp can play havoc with joint mobility, causing inflammation and pain. If you suffer from this condition you are far from alone. The information that follows will hopefully provide you with some useful tips to help you get through the winter months with less pain.
- Arthritis and Rheumatic disease affect around 8 million people in the UK
- More than 3 million people have a significant disability
- Osteoarthritis - the most common joint disorder in the UK affects more than one million people.
- It affects 10 - 25% of people aged over 65
- Around 600,000 people have Rheumatoid arthritis
- Arthritis and rheumatic disease are the most common causes of long-standing illness, and account for one fifth of all visits to the doctor.
The term "Arthritis" means damage or swelling of joints. Joints are the points where 2 bones meet. The ends of bones are covered by a thin layer of gristle or cartilage, which acts as a shock absorber when you put weight on a joint.
Cartilage is the tough, rubbery coating you can see on the ends of chicken thigh bones. It cushions the joints and ensures a smooth motion.
Joints are surrounded by a membrane called the Synovium, which produces a small amount of thick fluid called Synovial Fluid. This nourishes the cartilage and keeps it slippery. The Synovium has a tough outer layer called the Capsule, which stops the bones moving too much. Ligaments on both sides keep bones firmly in place. These are thick, strong bands usually just outside the Capsule. Tendons are also on both sides and attach muscles to bones. They keep the joint in place and help to move it.
Osteoarthritis is the end result of a number of different episodes of damage to the joint over a period of time. Genetic inheritance may play a part with some people. Being overweight, injury to the joint and repeated minor pressures on the joint, e.g. some sports or occupations involving repeated kneeling or lifting, can also cause this condition.
Osteoarthritis usually occurs at the knee (more common in women), the hip (equally common in men and women), the spine, and in the hands, especially at the base of the thumb and in the fingers. Osteoarthritis can produce a mild ache to crippling pain, when Total Hip Replacement or Knee Replacement may be indicated.
In severe osteoarthritis, the cartilage can become so thin that it no longer covers the bone ends. The bone ends touch and start to wear away. The loss of cartilage, the wearing of the bone, and the bony spurs at the edges can change the shape of the joint. This forces the bones out of their normal position and causes deformity.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory, auto-immune disease where the body turns against itself. Normally, inflammation is our immune system's response to fighting bacteria, viruses etc. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis the tissues and joints are attacked, which damages the cartilage, bones and sometimes the ligaments and tendons, too. When this happens the joints become unstable and deformities can occur.
Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in women and usually occurs between the ages of 40 to 60 but can appear earlier. It can also be hereditary in some families.
With rheumatoid arthritis the symptoms can come and go unpredictably. Sometimes physical exertion, an illness, or an emotional experience may trigger a 'flare up' but other times there may be no obvious cause.
Information and education - knowing how and why arthritis occurs can help to slow down or prevent further deterioration.
Weight management - being overweight puts further stresses on the joints, particularly the knees and hips. A reduction in weight can make a significant difference.
Exercise - aerobic exercise where the individual raises their heartbeat, sweats and becomes breathless is good for the whole body and can help in the management of weight. It may also increase general well being. Local strengthening exercise is particularly useful in arthritis of the knee. By strengthening the quadriceps muscle on the front of the thigh, pain can be reduced and balance and stability can be improved, therefore lessening disability. A physiotherapist can teach the exercises.
Frequent breaks in activities - it is sensible to have frequent breaks when gardening or doing housework to avoid mechanical stress.
Sensible footwear - a good training shoe for arthritis of the hip or knee is designed to absorb any impact when walking. Shoes should have a thick sole, no raised heel, a broad forefoot and soft uppers.
Drug therapy - no drugs are totally safe but Paracetamol is usually the first painkiller to try. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen may be the next choice but they have the potential to cause side effects, especially stomach problems, and may interact with other drugs. NSAIDs can inhibit repair of the joint.
Natraflex - a natural, herbal balm containing Boswellia, Capsaicin and MSM has been shown in trials to be effective in over 75% of people with arthritis and is available from Health Food Shops or the internet.
Diet - Nutritionists recommend that we eat a diet which is 80% alkaline and 20% acid. Instead, most people eat the opposite. Acidic bodies also cause calcium to be leached out from the joints, making the condition worse.
Foods that should be avoided
- Alcoholic drinks
- Caffeine-Coffee, Tea, & Chocolate
- Packaged or processed food with artificial additives
- Chinese food (contains Monosodium glutamate)
- Dairy products
- Refined flour
- White sugar
- Salted foods
- Fried foods
- Burnt, charred or rancid food
- Animal proteins-red meat
- Foods containing nitrates
- Citrus fruits
Foods that may help Arthritis sufferers
- Sea vegetables e.g. seaweed, kelp
- Garlic and onions
- Pineapple -contains the enzyme Bromelain
- Apples, pears and paw paws
- Water - at least 2 litres of filtered water each day
- Herbal tea
- Rice milk
- Oats, oatcake biscuits
- Rice cakes (with no added salt)
- Brown rice
- Flax seed or linseeds
- Linseed oil
- Cider vinegar
- Tuna, mackerel and sardines
- Nuts and seeds (make sure they are not mouldy) - Brazil nuts, almonds, hazel nuts, cashew nuts (not peanuts), sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds (Tahini paste)
- Dried fruits
- Pulses -lentils and beans
- White meat -chicken, lamb, and game
- Herbs -basil, coriander, and ginseng
Any allergens or food intolerances should be identified to reduce the load on the immune system, particularly with Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. Milk, yeast, eggs, grains and citrus fruits are the common foods that cause intolerance (see list of foods to avoid, above).
Fish oils are recommended to help lubricate the joints and therefore reduce the damage. MSM (methylsulphonylmethane) has also been found to reduce degeneration of the joints and can be taken orally or as a skin cream. Glucosamine is also recommended by Rheumatologists as it speeds up joint repair.
Doctors practising in nutrition recommend taking a multi-vitamin and multi-mineral supplement each day, which provides the daily values of all essential vitamins and minerals.
By understanding the facts about arthritis and following these simple diet and lifestyle recommendations, you can help to control or even reduce the symptoms of this common disease.