Arthritis is a broad term for over 100 types of joint inflammation. It affects around 10 million people in the UK alone and can be excruciating if not treated properly or early enough. The most common symptoms are pain and stiffness, and it is advised that you visit a GP soon after you notice symptoms. However, not all joint pain is arthritis.
There are no cures for any of the types of arthritic pain at the moment, but most patients find that they can manage their condition with a mixture of medications and complementary therapies to keep themselves mobile for as long as possible.
People of all ages can get arthritis, though it is more common in the over-40s, but with types such as rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease), it doesn’t discriminate. Whilst it can’t be completely prevented, you can help yourself by keeping a healthy weight, maintaining a balanced diet, doing regular gentle exercise and avoid smoking. If you’ve already been diagnosed with arthritis, doing the above will also help alleviate your symptoms, but won’t get rid of your condition.
It is also important to relax when the pain or consequences of it (such as mental wellbeing) get too much, especially as arthritis and fatigue go hand in hand.
“All types of arthritis can be difficult to live with. The pain it causes can interfere with daily life if adequate treatment isn’t sought. Popular and effective ways to relieve symptoms include taking anti-inflammatories such as Naproxen, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle including keeping mobile.”
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a broad term for a number of conditions that affect the joints in the body. Around 10 million people in the UK struggle with arthritic pain, and Osteoarthritis and Rhemuatoid arthritis are two of the most common forms.
In general, most types of arthritis cause pain and inflammation around the joints in the body. Some people can be affected in more than one area, and others only feel it in one or two places.
Most commonly, people will feel pain and stiffness in their affected joints and may also have warm and red skin around the area due to inflammation. These could also be signs of other conditions, but if you notice a combination of these symptoms, visit your GP to see if it might be arthritis.
Pain from the condition can affect daily life. Tasks that were once effortless might be more difficult with a reduced range of mobility, but it can be managed with the right medication and some lifestyle changes.
The first signs of osteoarthritis are pain and stiffness in the joints, and usually affects the weight-bearing joints most, such as the knees and hips, but also commonly affects the small joints in the hands as well.
Osteoarthritis starts by attacking cartilage around the joints. This cartilage exists to protect and cushion the bones against any kinds of impact, hence why a healthy person without arthritis won’t have any mobility issues or stiffness. Once the cartilage breaks down, other parts around the joints have to work harder, eventually causing inflammation, stiffness and pain.
Bone spurs can also form, contributing to the arthritic pain a patient may feel. In turn, these bone spurs can take up more space and affect the surrounding nerves, potentially causing neuropathy (nerve pain).
Several groups of people are more at risk of developing osteoarthritis, for example, it tends to be more common in women, in those who are overweight, and those who are over 50. In overweight people, more stress is put on the bones and joints over a long period of time, causing the cartilage to break down faster than in someone of a healthy weight. On the same lines of wear and tear, the risk of arthritic pain increases with age, as your joints have been working for longer than someone in their 20s or 30s. low levels of joint damage occur every day through normal activities, so unfortunately, osteoarthritis isn’t completely avoidable, as well as the idea that genetics may be a factor, though further research is needed to confirm this.
There is currently no cure for osteoarthritis, which may dishearten those suffering with arthritic pain, but there are several options for treatment available which may help to alleviate the symptoms.
Rhemuatoid arthritis (RA) affects the joints in a different way. Rather than gradual deterioration of the cartilage or being a wear-and-tear condition, RA is actually an autoimmune disease, meaning it can affect any age.
The body’s immune system targets affected joints by mistakenly sending antibodies to attack them. Usually, these antibodies work in our bodies to fight infection and harmful cells, but in the case of a person with rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system goes into overdrive and starts attacking the joints and surrounding areas. Like with osteoarthritis, RA causes pain, inflammation and swelling, though with rheumatoid arthritis, there is no definitive trigger. Whilst it usually effects people aged 40-60 (younger than those who are first diagnosed with osteoarthritis), it can often happen much younger in some people, and has characteristic flare ups where arthritic pain will be worse for periods of time before settling down again. A rapid diagnosis is essential to stop the condition getting worse, and it is usually managed in a similar way to its osteo-counterpart; with long-term medication and complementary therapies.
Rheumatoid arthritis tends to be symmetrical, often meaning that it affects both sides of the body in similar ways, usually starting with the smaller joints such as the fingers and toes. It can cause irreversible damage of the joints if left untreated for a period of time, so finding the right medication as soon as possible is extremely important for symptom management.
Can you get arthritis from cracking your knuckles?
In a word, no. Those of you that heard this in the playground at school will be pleased to read that there’s no evidence linking the two. Cracking your knuckles doesn’t actually harm the joints, the sound you hear is just gasses being released from synovial fluid around the cartilage. However, do be careful that you don’t injure yourself in the process.
What treatments are available?
Unfortunately, neither of the types of arthritis mentioned above have a cure, meaning that the most common approach of medication is taking painkillers either over the counter or on prescription over a long period of time. Anti-inflammatories such as naproxen and diclofenac have been proven to reduce the pain that comes along with the condition and improve the daily lives of those living with it, which can be used in conjunction with painkillers such as paracetamol or codeine.
Mefenamic acid (ponstan) is also a popular treatment for arthritic pain. It works by blocking prostaglandin chemicals, which are known to cause swelling and inflammation. There are no known interactions between Ponstan and Naproxen, meaning you can take them together to maximise the overall pain relief.
More severe cases of arthritis may need surgery to replace a damaged joint, such as the hips or knees.
Most people suffering with arthritic pain choose to use a combination of medicinal treatment and complementary therapies such as physiotherapy or hydrotherapy for optimum pain relief. Medication is fantastic for relieving pain in the here and now, where other therapies are great at promoting healthy movement to help the joints as much as possible. Regular gentle exercise is advised in order to keep mobile, as staying sedentary can make stiffness even worse in people suffering with arthritic pain, but sports such as running and weight lifting are discouraged as these can put the joints under more unnecessary stress.