How to Stay on Top of Arthritis and Prevent It?
Painful, swollen joints can affect your quality of life and even lead to deformity
Arthritis affects 15% of the Indian population, i.e. over 180 million people in India! It can strike anyone, regardless of gender, economic status or lifestyle. And it can be extremely painful, debilitating and life-changing!
Arthritis can affect any joint in the body, but the most commonly affected joints are the knees, hips, fingers and hands.
Unlike a healthy joint that ensures smooth movement, an arthritis-affected joint leads to gritty, irregular and high friction movement.
It usually occurs in the elderly - hence, the moniker “old age ailment” - but it can strike even in your 40s and 30s.
What are the types of Arthritis?
Arthritis is not a single disease. It’s actually a broad reference to joint inflammation & pain, stiffness of the limb or joint disorder. There are many different types of arthritis - the most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
In osteoarthritis, the cartilage that protects the bone is damaged, causing friction between the exposed bones, resulting in swollen & painful joints. This breakdown of the cartilage can be caused by wear & tear over many years or hastened by an injury.
Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an auto-immune disease, where the body’s own immune system, for some inexplicable reason, destroys the tissues lining the joint, resulting in a swollen and painful joint.
Neither osteoarthritis nor rheumatoid arthritis has a cure and, in both conditions, the disease tends to worsen over time. Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in old age.
Symptoms include stiffness, redness, swelling, pain, decreased range of motion, etc. These symptoms may be mild or severe and they can come and go.
Over time, the condition can worsen to an extent that it starts affecting one’s ability to do day-to-day activities and ultimately lead to deformity.
Do I have Arthritis?
Early diagnosis is crucial in managing arthritis. But quite often, the initial signs of stiffness and redness are brushed off as over-exertion. Consult your doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Morning stiffness that last longer than an hour or prolonged stiffness after sitting for a long time
- Swelling or redness or tenderness that lasts for more than 3 days or you have several episodes of swelling/redness within a month.
If you are diagnosed with arthritis, the focus of treatment is to control pain, minimize joint damage, maintain joint function and improve quality of life.
This may include medication, physical therapy and use of assistive aids. Your doctor may also tell you to keep your weight down - too much weight can make joints hurt more.
You can also apply an Ayurvedic or herbal oil on the affected joint for symptomatic relief from pain - speak to your doctor about this, do not self medicate.
Unlike earlier when patients were advised to “rest their joints”, now-a-days moderate- intensity, low-impact physical activity is recommended. Physical activity helps reduce pain, maintain joint function and can delay disability.
If you experience any difficulty being physically active or lack the confidence to do so, consult your doctor.
Can Arthritis be prevented?
High risk factors include a family history of arthritis, age, obesity, previous joint injury, etc. While you may not be able to change your genetic predisposition, here’s what you can do to reduce the risk of arthritis:
- Lose weight as extra pounds increase the burden on the joints
- Do low-impact exercises that don’t damage the joint (e.g. cycling, swimming) yet strengthen the muscles
- Avoid sports injury by using the right gear & equipment, adequate training and playing safe
- Use better body mechanics while performing tasks like lifting objects to take some stress off your joints
- Have a balanced diet and ensure you get enough Calcium and Vitamin D
- Drink enough water to stay hydrated, thereby protecting your cartilage
Fight back against arthritis. Start young and protect your joint health before it’s too late!
(Dr. S. P. Datta, MBBS, General Physician)
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