By Michael Hall
If you suffer from aches, pains, tightness, clicking, grating and joint stiffness, the chances are that you have arthritis, especially if these signs and symptoms worsen during inclement weather. This is because arthritis ranks as the second most prevalent medical problem in Australia. In fact, it is the major cause of disability and chronic pain in Australia, with 3.85million Australians affected at a cost to our economy of more than $23.9 billion each year in medical care and indirect costs such as loss of earnings and lost production.
And as the population ages, the number of people with arthritis is growing. According to leading researcher Access Economics, current trends suggest that, by 2050, 7 million Australians will suffer from some form of arthritis.
So what is arthritis?
Arthritis is often referred to as a single disease but in fact, it is an umbrella term for more than 100 medical conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system, specifically the joints where two or more bones meet.
Specifically, arthritis refers to inflammation of the joints and the surrounding tissue. Inflammation is an immune body response and the immune system is the body’s system for defending itself against foreign bodies, viruses, bacteria and so on. But the immune system also has another role and that is to act like a demolition company, clearing an area of debris and damaged tissue following injury, so that new tissue (construction) can be laid down. The immune system is activated when cells are damaged through excessive or abnormal stresses and the problem occurs when the immune system either acts too much or for too long, and continues to break down healthy tissue disrupting the repair of the area. In the case of arthritis, the immune system breaks down the covering on the end of bones (hyaline cartilage) leading to joint stiffness, pain and instability as well as muscle weakness, making it difficult to perform even the most basic daily tasks such as getting out of bed, dressing and walking.
While there are about 100 forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most prevalent accounting for 51% of cases in Australia, and it is this form of arthritis that we will refer to in this article.
What causes osteoarthritis?
There are many causes of osteoarthritis. These include:
1. Poor posture and / or movement habits;
2. Joint trauma associated with injury or surgery and incomplete or inadequate rehabilitation;
3. Poor diet, leading to nutritional deficiencies;
4. Congenital or genetic causes;
5. Inflammatory diseases.
The common link with all these factors is that they involve abnormal or excessive joint forces, joint irritation and inflammation leading to breakdown of the covering of joints. So to a large extent, preventing the inflammation associated with abnormal or excessive forces, and joint irritation would go a long way to preventing arthritis.
Arthritis is not necessarily a consequence of aging
There is a widely held belief that arthritis is simply a consequence of age, the pain of growing old. However, arthritis is not a natural part of ageing. In fact, 2.4 million of all people suffering from the disease are of working age.
Why is arthritis so prevalent when millions of dollars in medical funding have been spent doing years of research and creating a plethora of different treatment programs?
What is the solution?
Whilst finding a genetic solution may be some years off, research suggests that early intervention can delay the onset of the disease and may reduce the number of cases of osteoarthritis by about 500,000 within 15 years.
In addition, there are actions that you can take immediately to minimise joint inflammation and therefore the impact of arthritis. The key lies with optimising joint health by:
1. Reducing chronic muscle and joint tension which leads to muscle tightness, joint stiffness, poor alignment, nervous tissue irritation and eventually pain. The best way to do this is with meditation/relaxation techniques, remedial massage, joint mobilisation and PNF or prolonged stretching (Yoga), and correcting postures and movements through the use of better equipment (e.g. pillows, beds, chairs, work stations etc.)
2. Preventing abnormal or excessive joint stresses by correcting poor posture, mal-alignment and less than ideal movement habits so that better forces are placed on the body structures. Under these circumstances, tissue and joint health actually improves and wellbeing is enhanced;
3. Improving your physical capacity, through an appropriate conditioning, rehabilitation and prevention programs. These programs must emphasize ideal alignment, correct joint stabilisation and precise muscle control with integration into the optimal performance of every day movements. Among the best programs are clinical pilates and hydrotherapy, and functional strengthening classes;
4. Good nutrition is critical. Many foods such as turmeric, ginger, fish/krill oil and flaxseed oil actually reduce the effects of inflammation whilst others associated with acidic or high glycemic foods make it worse. Knowing which foods to avoid and which ones to eat can make a massive difference in the quality of your life.
5. Ensuring that you have normal amounts of vitamin D by exposing 40% of your body to 15 minutes of sunlight before 9am.
It makes sense that these recommendations will work better if they are combined in the one program. Bodywise Health has now runs such a program, so if you suffer from arthritis, call Bodywise Health. Relief may be just a phone call away.
For more information or for an appointment, please call Bodywise Health on 1 300 263 994.
• Rebates are available through your private insurance extras cover;
• For complex or chronic conditions, you may qualify for the EPC (Enhanced Primary Care Program) allowing you to receive 5 allied health services each calendar year with a referral from your GP. For more information, please call Bodywise Health now on 1 300 263 994.