What is arthritis and how can you manage it?
A joint is formed when two or more bones meet and they, along with the muscles, ligaments and tendons help the body to achieve mobility. Arthritis is a medical condition that affects the different joints found in the human body such as the wrist, knuckles, knees, ankles and hips. It is not a disease in itself but a much broader term for pain and inflammation of the joints.
Arthritis refers to over 150 different inflammatory conditions relating to joints, bones and muscles that make up the musculoskeletal system. Discomfort and pain usually depend on the type of arthritis and extent of degeneration of joints affected. Arthritis can affect people of all ages including children and people from varied lifestyles and backgrounds. Although there is no cure for arthritis, there are ways to manage the progression and pain.
1 in 7 Australians have arthritis and 1 in 2 Australians with arthritis reported moderate to severe pain*.
Major causes of arthritis
Arthritis can be caused by a range of factors from injury to the joints, genetics and inheritance, to immune system disorder or an irregular metabolism. Quite often, being overweight also results in increased stress on joints.
More than one factor may also contribute to pain experienced in joints. A demanding job may put a person at an increased risk of arthritis who is genetically inclined or may have had an injury. For some, arthritis may have no predictable cause for emergence.
Most common types of arthritis
Two bones in a joint are connected by a thin, firm tissue known as cartilage. The cartilage is responsible for absorbing any pressure created during mobility and reducing the stress experienced by joints. The cartilage may thin out over time due to normal wear and tear and this results in pain. Joint pain resulting from the breakdown of the cushioning cartilage is known as osteoarthritis. It commonly affects adults over 40 years of age and progresses gradually. An injury to the joints as may be the case with sportspersons, or an infection to the joints may aggravate the natural breakdown of the tissue.
Rheumatoid arthritis is joint pain caused by inflammation and fluid build-up in the joints as a result of the body’s immune system attacking membranes lining the joints. Rheumatoid is a common form of arthritis that is an autoimmune disorder, most more likely to occur in women. It may eventually lead to the destruction of both bone and cartilage within the joint.
Ankylosing spondylitis is a condition where joints of the neck, back and pelvis become inflamed, causing considerable pain and stiffness in the spine. This condition also affects other joints in the body such as shoulders and hips, along with eyes, lungs, bowel and skin. Symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis can be seen in people as young as 15 years old and is another autoimmune disorder.
Joint inflammation and redness due to the build-up of uric acid crystals in a joint cause’s gout. This form of arthritis is commonly seen in men. A sharp pain can come on very quickly causing swelling, often overnight. Gout usually affects one joint at a time and often starts with the joint of the big toe.
Juvenile idiopathic arthritis
This occurs in children below the age of sixteen who may experience joint pain, redness, inflammation and stiffness in knees, hips, hands and feet. The intensity of symptoms fluctuates – worsening or flaring up one week and reducing dramatically the next. While the cause of this form of arthritis is unknown, it has been observed that symptoms cease as children mature into adults.
Early signs of arthritis
Each condition will have specific symptoms relating to your joints such as:
- Tender or warm to touch
Other early signs to watch out for include:
- Fever, but no other signs of flu
- Overall fatigue
- Weight loss
- Skin ailments
- Feeling unwell
Medical professionals consider osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis as chronic conditions, however there are many treatment options available that can help manage joint pain and improve function. Discussing your symptoms with your doctor or pharmacist as soon as possible will help early diagnosis and commencement of treatment. Treatment for arthritis is focused on controlling joint pain to minimise further damage. In most cases the earlier treatment is started, the better the outcomes. Treatments are not just confined to medicines and pharmacists will work with doctors, physiotherapists and other allied health professionals to help patients live well despite the pain.
Common prescription medications used to treat arthritis
- Analgesics such as ibuprofen and paracetamol can provide temporary pain relief.
- Biologics are biological disease-modifying drugs that specifically work on controlling the immune system in a targeted manner for arthritis caused by autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.
- Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic medications (DMARDs) work on controlling the immune system to slow down the damaging effect on joints in arthritis caused by autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) provide pain relief by controlling inflammation of joints
Other treatment options
- Speak to your local TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacist about other supportive treatment options, such as rubs that can be used for flares or breakthrough pain.
- Consult a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist to strengthen the muscles around the joint and stablise it for better range of motion.
- If you are overweight, losing weight may help to ease pressure on your joints. Speak to your local TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacist or dietician to work out what is right for you.
- Discuss with your physiotherapist or exercise physiologist about low-impact exercises that won’t further aggravate the joint pain.
- Short-term acute joint pain may be relieved with a simple technique known as PRICE: Protect the joint with a brace or wrap, rest the joint, ice the joint for about 15 minutes several times each day and elevate the joint above the level of your heart.
- A joint replacement surgery may be suggested by orthopaedic surgeon in advanced arthritis where there is severe pain and reduced mobility.
10 Tips for Travelling with Joint Pain and Arthritis
Joint pain and arthritis can make daily living and travelling challenging. Discover easy tips and exercises to prevent stiffness and ease inflammation in joints.
Managing arthritis for daily living
Here are a few ideas to better manage your joint pain and make daily living easier.
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Exercise regularly and stay active
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Prepare for your travels with these simple tips
- Work closely with your healthcare team
Joint pain whether mildly irritating or debilitating can put a strain on daily life, where seemingly simple tasks require huge effort. Our pain management hub is designed to help you live better with persistent. Speak to one of our pharmacists for advice on managing arthritis for better outcomes for daily living.