Arthritis is common as you get older. Our concise guide discusses the symptoms of arthritis and advises how to ease and treat them.
If you suffer from joint pain, join the club. So many people have osteoarthritis, you'll soon be offered advice not only by your doctor, family and friends but also by the plumber and your next-door neighbour. Anti-inflammatory drugs–prescription and over-the-counter–can ease the pain, and most people will want to take them, but relief from arthritis doesn't end at that point. There are plenty of other measures sufferers can take to achieve their goal of easy-moving, pain-free days.
There are more than 100 types of arthritis, but the most common type is osteoarthritis. Since you can't be sure what kind of arthritis you have, or whether your symptoms suggest another condition entirely, it's essential to discuss any joint stiffness, swelling, redness or pain with your doctor. If you've already been diagnosed with arthritis, see your doctor if you notice a new or different type of swelling in your joints.
Symptoms include painfully stiff, swollen joints in any part of the body. The pain is the result of wear and tear on cartilage, the gel-like shock-absorbing material between joints. When cartilage wears away, bone grinds against bone. Although you can develop osteoarthritis at any age, it usually occurs in people over 45 years of age, and is more common among women. Other forms of the disease are rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.
Eat more oily fish. Many people who supplement their diets with omega-3 fatty acids–found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and trout–discover that pain and stiffness are lessened. These substances seem to discourage inflammation in the body. You can also take the oils alone or in capsule form. Research at Cardiff University has shown that the omega-3 fatty acids in cod liver oil can slow and may even reverse the destruction of cartilage that leads to osteoarthritis. The recommended dose is 2000mg of an omega-3 supplement 3 times a day, with meals. But check with your doctor first before taking fish oil supplements if you are taking blood-thinning drugs, have high cholesterol or are diabetic. As an alternative to fish oil capsules, take 1 tablespoon of flaxseed (linseed) oil a day. It's loaded with the same type of omega-3s. Take the oil straight from a spoon, mix it with orange juice or add it to your salad dressing. If you like nuts, indulge. They also contain beneficial oils.
Whether it's walking, swimming, cycling or yoga, begin a gentle exercise regime. The better your physical condition, the less pain and stiffness you'll have. If you have arthritis in a leg joint, you might need a walking stick to help stabilise the joints. If your joints are swollen and inflamed, don't work through the pain. Instead, take a day off. Talk to your doctor or physiotherapist about how to start a weight-training program. Strong muscles will help to support your joints and absorb shock.
For knee pains, consider this massage knee protector and support for additional benefits when you exercise.
Maintain a healthy weight to help prevent osteoarthritis. Losing just 5 kilos and keeping it off for 10 years will halve the risk of arthritis affecting your knees. Invest in good walking shoes. The softer heels will lessen the impact of walking on your foot, ankle, knee and hip joints. Flat, supportive shoes are generally considered best for knees.
Recent clinical studies have shown that vitamin C and other anti-oxidants can help to reduce the risk of osteoarthritis and its progression. Anti-oxidants prevent bone breakdown by destroying free radicals–harmful oxygen molecules that cause tissue damage. Take 500mg of vitamin C every day.
Take zinc supplements. One long-term study of nearly 30,000 women found that those who took zinc supplements reduced their risk of rheumatoid arthritis. The recommended dose is 15mg a day taken with food.
Acupuncture may reduce the requirements for conventional pain-killing drugs, which often have unpleasant side effects. A number of clinical trials have found that it is especially beneficial for people with arthritis in their knees and hips. A series of treatments is required rather than a single session. See a qualified acupuncturist for an individual assessment.
Mind–body therapies, such as meditation, self-hypnosis and visualisation, have all been shown to have great benefit in helping people with arthritis deal with the chronic pain.