Arthritis is a common ailment that causes swelling and tenderness of an individual’s joints. A combined 50 million American adults and children suffer from one of the 100+ forms of arthritis. If it goes untreated, arthritis can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort and can diminish an individual’s quality of life substantially.
By far the two most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. But what is important to consider is that inflammation of the joint(s) can arise for many, many reasons. Even two people with the same arthritic diagnosis may have completely different underlying issues. We’ll uncover these details in a bit.
Quick look at Arthritis:
Most common presenting symptoms:
- Joint pain
- Joint stiffness
- Decreased range of motion
Before we do, let’s dive a little deeper into those two most common forms:
Osteoarthritis - This form of arthritis occurs due to the general wear-and-tear joints experience throughout a lifetime, or because of a significant joint injury/infection. The cartilage inside joints breaks down or completely erodes away, resulting in bone-on-bone contact. This grinding on a bone can cause acute inflammation, connective tissue breakdown, and changes in bone structure.
Rheumatoid Arthritis - As an autoimmune disease, this form of arthritis arises because an immune response targets the body’s joints, destroying the inner membrane lining. The continuous inflammation can lead to the disease damaging the cartilage and bone within the joint.
Alongside these two most common forms, there are many other forms of arthritis that are less common. A few examples are ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, gout, and lupus.
The Basics of Joint Health
Although there are many types of joints in the body that differ in their structure and function, there are basic qualities of all joints that are vital to understand in order to keep them healthy and arthritis-free.
First and foremost, joints need movement to stay healthy. All joints have articular cartilage, which is a slick, durable lining that covers the bone where it articulates with another bone. This cartilage does not have a nerve or blood supply (although the underlying bone does), so it utilizes another strategy to get nutrients: movement. The fluid that surrounds the joint - called synovial fluid - serves to lubricate the joint and passively supply it nutrients by diffusion. When a joint moves, it stimulates the production of synovial fluid and keeps it in good health.
The biomechanics of a joint are also very important. If a person has poor posture, muscular imbalance, or repetitive microtrauma, biomechanics can change in a sub-optimal way. Non-efficient biomechanics can lead to increased pressure on the cartilage surface, leading to cartilage degeneration and underlying bony change. When a joint stays in this state for a long enough time, permanent arthritic changes can result.
(Arthritis affects more than 50 million Americans.)
Symptoms and Risk Factors For Arthritis
Varying degrees of arthritis exist and can affect multiple areas of the body including the neck, back, shoulders, elbows, hands, hips, knees, ankles, and feet. While arthritis does impact a large portion of Americans, the prevalence of the condition can be minimized with the proper care and attention.
Symptoms of Arthritis:
- Joint Pain
- Decreased Range of Motion
Common Causes of Arthritis
Building off of what we now know to be true about the nature and dynamics of joint health, lets look at a list of things that can be downstream causes for the many types of arthritic conditions:
- Being overweight
- Poor biomechanics
- Joint Infection
- Occupation/Lifestyle (i.e. carpenter)
- Joint Injury
- Older Age
- Gender (women are more likely to develop arthritis than men)
- Human Leukocyte Antigen Gene
What can Arthritis Lead To?
We all know that little problems, when given a long enough 'incubation period' can become big problems. To take it a step further, big problems, when gone unchecked, can lead to issues that require immediate intervention.
So with this understanding, lets talk through some of the downstream effects that arthritis can lead to.
For one, it is important to note that most types of arthritis are characterized by an inflammatory process within a joint. Sustained bouts of inflammation can lead to the destruction of existing healthy tissue as well as the buildup of scar tissue, extra bone growth, and invasion of surrounding structures. Many osteoarthritic changes in the knees, hips, and spine will ultimately lead to chronic pain, immobility, and the need for surgical intervention.
Traditional Medical Treatment of Arthritis
As is customary in the world of traditional (western) medical treatment, much of the emphasis is placed on symptom management.
In the case of arthritis, the primary symptom that presents is pain.
Due to the ever-increasingly convoluted health insurance landscape, many providers choose to walk their arthritic patients down the "pain management" path. Now, because this route most often does not address the underlying cause of the problem, the end-result is a person who ends up on a surgical table. As we stated earlier, pain arises for a reason (most often underlying inflammation). When we look at the pain as the problem, the inevitable solution becomes get rid of pain.
Well, you know what? We have become very good at playing that game. Pain medications are among the most commonly prescribed meds in the U.S.
But the point that every arthritic patient must think about is that just because you don't feel the pain, it doesn't mean the problem isn't there. In fact, reducing the awareness of pain can often lead to further abuse of a joint in need of attention. This is analogous to putting a crying baby in a closet (so you can't hear the cry anymore) instead of addressing the baby's need, and therefore the reason for the cry in the first place.
True Prevention and Treatment of Arthritis
When looking at joint tissue physiologically, remember that joints need movement to stay healthy. Under-use of a joint can lead to its demise, as it may not have the ability to mobilize nutrients and waste metabolites adequately. Joint cartilage does not have much of an immediate blood supply, so to get proper nutrient intake, motion is absolutely vital for diffusion of nutrients from the surrounding (synovial) fluid.
In order to prevent osteoarthritic change, best practice is incorporating lifestyle choices that limit the poor biomechanics and/or stagnancy of joints. For a person with existing osteoarthritis, however, the treatment and reduction of the disease effects are possible through the utilization of several treatment options.
Ways to reduce the likelihood of arthritis include:
- A diet that includes omega-3 fatty acids (i.e. salmon, trout, and mackerel are natural ways to consume these healthy fats), hydrophilic glycosaminoglycans (chondroitin sulfate), and collagen (bone broth, etc.)
- Controlling your weight (being only 10 pounds overweight can cause an additional 30 to 60 pounds of force exerted on your knees with every step)
- Exercise (strengthening the muscles around your joints can further protect them from wear-and-tear)
- Improved biomechanics (consistent forward head posture can lead to osteoarthritic degeneration of the neck and upper back)
(Exercise like yoga is able to help prevent and reduce the development of arthritis.)
If you are suffering from arthritis and the pain that results, there are a number of treatment options that you can benefit from. Keep in mind that all humans trend toward osteoarthritic change under sub-optimal conditions. Much of the success or failure that a person will have with a particular treatment will depend on the extent of the arthritic change and the willingness of the person to stay consistent with what must be done to help.
Some examples of various treatment options that can be administered in a professional setting are:
- Cold (cryo) Therapy - Cold therapy treatments like icing the affected area help reduce swelling and lessen pain. Although heat therapy brings more blood flow to an area, it also can cause inflamed joints to swell even further at times, so ice is usually the best place to start.
- Laser, Ultrasound, Electric Stim - There is research evidence showing the efficacy of certain physiotherapy modalities to help stimulate healing, calm inflammation, and reduce muscle tension.
- Chiropractic Care - Chiropractic care has been shown to help mobilize immoble, unstable, and inefficient joints of the spine and axial skeleton. When utilized judiciously alongside at-home stretches and exercises, chiropractic care is very good at improving joint biomechanics and helping stop/slow the progression of arthritis.
- Massage Therapy - Kneaking the muscles surrounding the affected joints can increase blood flow and help relieve pain.
Some examples of other treatments that can be done without the help of a professional are:
- Supplements - The introduction of specific vitamins can help lessen the impact of arthritis due to anti-inflammatory properties. Supplements that have shown to help arthritis include: anti-inflammatory substances like turmeric, ginger, vitamin c, alpha-lipoic acid, resveratrol, omega 3 fatty acids, and GLA. Other joint-specific supplements are glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate as well as type 1-5 collagen supplements.
- Stress Management - Stress has been shown to exacerbate inflammatory responses. Learning stress management tools and techniques can help minimize flare-ups and the overall effect of arthritis.
- Diet and Exercise - As mentioned previously, maintaining a healthy diet with nutrient-rich foods can help ease the body’s inflammatory burden. In addition, exercise helps strengthen muscles and increases flexibility surrounding commonly affected joints. “Move it or lose it” is actually a pretty apt statement!
Treating Arthritis in Tempe, Arizona
If you are struggling with arthritis or arthritis-like symptoms we encourage you to schedule an appointment with us today! WIth the correct analysis and care, you can regain mobility, reduce pain, and slow the progression of arthritis. Each person is unique, and we make sure to use that as our baseline when each new person enters our doors.
We have the unique ability to be able to administer both Chiropractic Care and Functional Wellness Testing and Care to help our patients with arthritis.
Arthritis doesn’t have to slow you down. Tell us more about your situation, today!