Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain, stiffness and inflammation within a joint. In the UK, around 10 million people have arthritis. The most common type of arthritis called osteoarthritis and the medical treatments (listed below) help the pain not underlying joint disease and have long terms effects on the heart, kidneys and stomach. The lifestyle, exercise and nutritional advice on these pages target the overall well being of the joint for osteoarthritis but will still have some relevance for the less common types, ranging from rheumatoid to psoriasis related arthritis listed at the bottom of this page.
This is advice is not a quick fix but over time will help you and your joints.
Lifestyle factors which affect the development and progression of arthritis:
- Anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory foods – read more
- Polyphenols and phytochemical intake – read more
- A macrobiotic (healthy bacteria) diet – read more
- Smoking – tips to quit
- Reducing processed sugar – tips to reduce sugar intake
- Avoiding excess alcohol – tips to drink sensibly
- Being overweight – tips to loose weight
- Regular stretching and exercise – read more
Consequences of Arthritis
Osteoarthritis initially affects the smooth cartilage lining of the joint. Once the cartilage lining starts to roughen and thin out, the tendons and ligaments have to work harder. This can cause swelling and the formation of bony spurs, called osteophytes. Severe loss of cartilage can lead to bone rubbing on bone, altering the shape of the joint and forcing the bones out of their normal position. This can lead to deformity and compression on the nerve roots of the spine causing neuralgia (e.g. Sciatica). Not only is the swelling, pain and stiffness associated with arthritis troublesome, it can affect exacerbate other conditions by restricting an individual’s ability to mobilise freely particularly, obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Restricted mobility also has affects on mood, depression, hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms.
Who gets osteoarthritis?
It most often develops in adults who are in their late 40s or older. It’s also more common in women and people with a family history of the condition. However, it can occur at any age as a result of an injury or be associated with other joint-related conditions listed above. Joint discomfort usually starts early after cancer treatments, effecting people at a much younger age and for a longer period of their life. Over 55% of people get a deterioration or start of arthritis after cancer treatments caused by surgery, chemotherapy, ongoing hormones or biological treatments such as Herceptin [Pegram].
Analgesia: Simple analgesia include paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents and if severe, stronger painkillers such as opioids. Although helpful, they have significant long-term cardiovascular and gastrointestinal risks and unwelcome effects.
Invasive procedures: Surgical interventions such as joint fusion and replacement prosthesis remain effective but intrusive [Reddy]. Steroid injections can help initially but cannot be repeated too often.
Integrative therapies (Non-nutritional). In addition to improving exercise levels, mentioned above [Irwin], Yoga and Pilates have demonstrated some effectiveness in helping to relieve joint pain and improving mobility [Haslock]. Weight reduction, if overweight, does have benefits by reducing the load on the weight bearing joints, even if joint pains have already started [Felson]. Physical complementary interventions such as acupuncture, reflexology, chiropractic, osteopathy and massage offer emotional support, and there are some reports of improved pain and stiffness [Boa, Thomas].
Exercise strategies – click here
Nutritional strategies – click here
Topical chili pepper extract (Capsaicin). Three randomised trials, involving over 400 participants, have investigated the effectiveness of topical application of capsaicin gel in treating arthralgia when compared to a placebo gel at doses varying between 0.025 – 0.075% was applied four times a day for a treatment period ranging between 4 and 12 weeks [Altman, Mcleane, Kosuwon]. In all three trials, summarised in a systemic review, capsaicin was found to be about four times more effective in improving pain, stiffness, joint tenderness and function in participants compared to placebo gel [Mason]. Significantly more participants using capsaicin cream reported a reduction in pain, joint tenderness and use of self medicated and prescribed analgesics, as assessed by a doctor and by the participants themselves.
Types of arthritis:
- Osteoarthritis – usual age related
- Rheumatoid arthritis – The immune system attacks a persons own joints and tendons
- Ankylosing spondylitis – a genetic condition mainly affecting the spine leading to the joints fusion.
- Cervical spondylosis – affects the neck leading to pain and pressure on the nerves to the arms and hands.
- Fibromyalgia– effects elderly causes pain in the body’s muscles, ligaments and tendons, often helped with steroids.
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) an autoimmune condition that can affect many different organs.
- Gout – caused by too much uric acid in the body causes intense pain often starting in the big toe..
- Psoriatic arthritis – an inflammatory joint condition that can affect people with psoriasis.
- Enteropathic arthritis – a form of chronic, inflammatory arthritis associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD),
- Reactive arthritis – in joints, eyes and urethra, triggered by an infection of the bowel, genital tract or throat.
- Secondary arthritis – secondary to joint injury and sometimes occurs many years afterwards.
- Polymyalgia rheumatica – affects people over 50 years, where the immune system causes muscle pain and stiffness