Arthritis literally means” inflammation of the joints”. It is not one condition but more than 200 different ones with different causes and can affect anyone from small children to the elderly. Types include osteo-arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis.
Some forms of arthritis are related to ageing and degeneration of the cartilage which lines the joints and others are caused by the immune system attacking the body’s own tissues. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis which might involve blood tests and a visit to a rheumatologist. Some types of arthritis might require long-term drug treatment and occasionally surgery to replace very damaged joints. There may be a genetic tendency to develop some forms of arthritis and some affect women more than men and vice-versa.
The most common type we see in practice is osteo-arthritis (called spondylosis when it affects the spinal joints). It is most commonly seen in the over-50’s and tends to affect the weight-bearing joints such as the knees and hips. It is typified by thinning and flaking of the cartilage (the smooth lining of the joints) and by subsequent thickening of the underlying bone. There may also be spur-like outgrowths of bone around the joint margins called osteophytes which can be seen on x-rays.
Osteoarthritis is, to some extent, a normal part of ageing but hugely varies in severity between individuals of the same age and x-ray results are a very poor predictor of the degree of symptoms a patient has. Typical symptoms include morning stiffness, pain and swelling of joints, loss of the full range of movement and difficulty with normal daily activities such as climbing stairs. Obesity,which causes excessive loading of the joints and previous injury or surgery to the joint may make it more likely that a joint will become arthritic.
It is vital to keep as active as possible and exercise is remarkably effective at lessening arthritis symptoms by restoring flexibility and strengthening muscles. Osteopaths can treat osteo-arthritis by maintaining joint mobility and relaxing and stretching shortened muscles. I also sometimes use acupuncture for pain relief. We can also advise you on self-help. Typically I see my osteo-arthritis patients once a month or so and this keeps them active, independent and as pain-free as possible.