Arthritis is a term that applies to any condition of an inflammatory nature leading to painful or stiffness of the joints.
Arthritis is not just one condition, it is a category under which well over 100 actual conditions are listed. Some of the most commonly known and prevalent conditions include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout. Arthritis occurs when a part of the joint becomes inflamed and/or swollen, causing pain stiffness and difficulty in movement.
What happens to our joints?
A joint is the ‘junction’ where 2 or more bones meet. It is the point where they join together to form bendable parts of the skeleton. Examples are the hip, knee and elbow, knuckles and toes.These bone ‘junctions’ are covered by cartilage - a smooth, spongy material that protects the bones and allows flexible, pain-free movement.
The cartilage is covered by synovial fluid – produced by the synovium, a further outer covering that protects the joint. The synovial fluid transports nourishment to the joint and acts like oil in a car’s engine – easing friction and aiding movement. Arthritis symptoms can vary depending on the type, but they all cause some degree of inflammation and pain to one or more of the joints and their surrounding area. The condition can be acute or chronic, but more usually becomes chronic when untreated or treated insufficiently.Some types of arthritis, e.g. infectious arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus, not only affect the joints but also produce other symptoms such as skin rashes, aches, chills and fever, as well as having effects on major internal organs, such as on the heart by complicating already present heart conditions.
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- Chronic joint symptoms affect around 70 million Americans.
- Musculoskeletal disease and osteoarthritis currently affect over 4.5 million Australians, where arthritis and related conditions are currently the 4th most common reasons for work absence.
Arthritic conditions are not limited to the western world however. They are widespread throughout Asia and the Middle East too.
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Causes of Arthritis
The prime cause of most forms of arthritis is usually nutritional. Nutritional deficiencies and a generally insufficient diet.
Excess free radicals, glycation, methylation and inflammation, all of which are impacted by nutrition, all contribute to causing arthritis symptoms.
Because of this the first part of treatment involves ensuring that your digestive system is able to work effectively, and that your body's energy is able to concentrate on your systemic areas, rather than 'gathering' within the digestive sytem only as it tries to deal with the stress of an imbalanced, inflammed, or inadequate digestive process.
Also work factors can contribute – especially where repetitive movements and constant lifting has been shown to increase joint stress and potential injury leading to chronic weakness and vulnerability.
Lack of essential fatty acids, fish oils, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, or the inability to absorb them adequately, also increase the risk of infection and lessens your body’s ability to repair damage. Chronological age is of little consequence with arthritis but, lifestyles along with nutrition can have a significant impact on the development and severity of arthritis.
Obesity is another factor, adding undue stress and pressure to weight-bearing joints.
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Signs & Symptoms of Arthritis
Osteoarthritis only causes problems around the joint itself, whereas other forms of arthritis may cause general symptoms such as fatigue, fever and rashes.When arthritis affects your joints your tendons and the capsule around your joints become inflamed (red and hot to the touch).
You may notice:
- Difficulty moving your joint after being still for a period of time
- Pain on moving your joint
- Swelling and inflammation around the joint site
- Tenderness and warmth
These are all indications that you may have a problem requiring further investigation.
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Under conventional medicine, drug therapy and physiotherapy are usually recommended to try to retain levels of mobility in the joints. They all carry risks.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
NSAIDs are the normal drugs of choice for arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Side effects include possible kidney failure with prolonged use, as well as fluid retention, potential liver failure, ulcers and prolonged bleeding.
COX-2 inhibitors are improved NSAIDs that block the COX-2 enzyme at the site of inflammation.
The COX-2 enzyme however creates protective fatty acids in the body. By blocking this enzyme with a COX-2 inhibitor the patient is left without these protective fatty acids, increasing their risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems.
Important Note: widely used COX-2 inhibitors have been investigated following studies into their negative cardiovascular side effects. Just one popular COX-2 inhibitor has been linked to around 140,000 cases of coronary heart disease in the US since 1999, and reportedly 103 deaths from heart attack and stroke in the UK.
Drugs from different classes will often be used together. All of these drugs have potentially toxic side effects however and are only ever treating the symptoms, suppressing them, rather than getting to the actual root cause of the pain. Other arthritis treatments conventional medicine has integrated to help ease symptoms include ultrasound, heat therapy, surgery to ‘clean up’ the ends of the bones, keyhole surgery to examine and repair tissues, joint replacement, bone grafting and spinal fusions.
All of these surgical procedures require the problem to be of a significant level to justify intervention.
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