Arthritic pain affects over one in five Americans in the form of rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, fibromyalgia, and other related conditions. While arthritis means joint inflammation, over a hundred different recognized arthritic conditions, many of which are autoimmune problems. Arthritis is used to describe joint pain, but its symptoms are not always limited to the joints. Arthritic conditions can cause chronic pain in other body parts, including organs.
In addition to pain, certain types of arthritis can permanently change the structure and shape of a joint. Arthritic pain can range from minor and inconvenient to debilitating and disabling, and treatment can differ depending on the condition. Rheumatoid arthritis will require different medication and treatment considerations than lupus.
How Arthritis Works
Different arthritic conditions will have different pathologies. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which often occurs because of age and joint degeneration. In this type of arthritis, a person’s pain and swelling result from wear-and-tear in the cartilage between bones, causing bone spurs and abnormal growths as hard surfaces rub against each other during day-to-day activities.
While age is one factor, there are multiple factors in developing degenerative arthritis, such as body weight, physical activity, and risk factors like smoking. Then there are autoimmune arthritis conditions, where the body triggers chronic and unwarranted bouts of inflammation as part of the immune system’s response to a non-existent threat.
In autoimmune disorders where joints are the primary target of the immune system, symptoms of arthritic pain are rampant and debilitating. Environmental triggers (exposure to certain toxins, second-hand or first-hand smoking) and genetic factors play a role in these conditions. Some types of arthritis result from viral, bacterial, or fungal infections. These can attack the joints specifically and cause significant inflammation and pain. A few examples of infectious sources of arthritis include salmonella and hepatitis C.
Gout, on the other hand, is a metabolic form of arthritis. In cases of gout, a person’s metabolism cannot handle the rate at which uric acid is being built up in their system, creating needle-like uric acid crystals in the joints. Rather than ongoing pain, gout is often punctuated by painful attacks, which can become recurring and chronic if a patient’s uric acid levels cannot be controlled.
Seeking Solutions for Arthritis Relief
While all arthritis can be generalized as inflammation of the joint, specific treatment plans are only relevant to one type of arthritic condition. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of general advice that can help patients seek the arthritis relief they need. Let’s go over a few basic dos and don’ts.
This advice hinges on the severity of a patient’s arthritis. Severe arthritis can be disabling and can preclude all forms of exercise, including a walk around the block. But for patients with mild or moderate pain, physical activity can help reduce arthritic symptoms and reduce the severity of the condition. Movement and exercise help release the body’s natural endorphins and engages muscles that take pressure off the joint in question.
It’s a balancing act. Too much volume (walking or exercising too often or for too long) and too much intensity (going from a walk to a run from one day to the next) can exacerbate pain. But the steady progression and careful programming can strengthen the body and help a patient build resilience against future bouts of arthritic pain.
Osteoarthritis won’t be resolved entirely through exercise. No amount of activity can restore the cartilage between your bones. And autoimmune conditions rarely go away with enough steps per day. But regular exercise can promote arthritis relief, lower inflammation, improve blood flow, help cut down on body fat, and slow the progress of arthritis as a progressive disease.
Important Movement Tips
Exercise is great, but there is a reason physical therapists and experienced trainers are recommended when working with a condition like osteoarthritis or fibromyalgia. It’s one thing to commit yourself to move more, and it’s another to commit yourself to the right kind of movement. Special patient-to-patient considerations must be respected and accounted for in an exercise program. A general tip is to look into swimming.
Water helps reduce the amount of pressure on the joints as you’re less affected by gravity and can learn to remain buoyant with your lungs alone. A physical therapist may also help instruct you on how to improve your posture and form throughout your daily or weekly training regimen and in the household and work-related tasks that contribute to or affect your pain, whether it’s gardening or picking up an object from the floor.
Hot and Cold Treatments
Hot water bottles and ice packs have been common injury and inflammation treatments for decades, and they may also help provide arthritis relief. The general rule is to apply ice immediately and apply warmth later on when you’ve injured yourself. Properly icing an injury in the first few hours can reduce swelling and swelling-related pain.
Warming the area in subsequent days may help promote healing and speed up recovery. Most cases of arthritic pain are chronic and not acute like most injuries. However, hot and cold therapies may still help provide arthritis relief by reducing inflammation (cold) or promoting blood flow to the joint (hot).
Arthritis and Smoking
Regardless of the origin of your joint pain, one of the worst things you can do for your joints continues to smoke. Smoking greatly accelerates osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, eroding your cartilage and bone density, affecting overall physical strength and health. It also increases your heart, throat, lung, and bone cancer risk. Some people are more resilient to the long-term effects of cigarettes than others, but research shows that regardless of your genetic differences, tobacco toxins contribute to slowed cartilage repair, worse bone health, and greater levels of inflammation.
We’ve gone over simple lifestyle changes and doctor-ordered physical therapies, but medication still plays an essential role in treating arthritis. In addition to prescription and over-the-counter painkillers, arthritis patients are prescribed different kinds of medication to help reduce inflammation, reduce pain, manage their immune response, and slow or stop the source of the inflammation. These include corticosteroids, taken orally or injected, and DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs).
Other types of drugs such as biologics and targeted DMARDs are also prescribed. These medications use different mechanisms of action to slow or stop the disease-causing arthritic pain, such as disrupting the inflammation process. Treating arthritis can take time and experimentation, but it’s essential to see a medical professional quickly. Swift and aggressive treatment can reduce the degree to which an arthritic condition progresses and help you lead a better, even pain-free life.
Take the First Step Towards Pain-Free Living Today