Arthritis is the major cause of disability and chronic pain in Australia, with 3.85 million Australians affected at a cost of more than $23.9 billion each year. Though it is widely believed that arthritis simply develops as you get older, 62 per cent of those affected are of working age.
Arthritis encompasses more than 100 medical conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system, specifically joints where two or more bones meet. It can present as pain, stiffness, inflammation and damage to joint cartilage, which prevents the bones from moving against one another smoothly. As a result people experience weakness, instability and deformities that stop them doing daily tasks.
The three most common types of arthritis are: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout.
Osteoarthritis can be caused by normal wear and tear on the cartilage; however it is exacerbated by an infection or injury to the joints. Family history may also be a factor with osteoarthritis. In contrast, in rheumatoid arthritis the body’s own immune system attacks the soft tissue in the joints (synovium). The synovium can become so diseased that bone and cartilage is destroyed. Gout is different again - caused by the result of excess uric acid in the body.
· Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) – reduce pain and inflammation eg. ibuprofen
· Counterirritants – creams containing menthol or capsaicin.
· Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) – stops the immune system from attacking joints in rheumatoid arthritis.
· Immunotherapy – stimulates protein molecules to help the immune system
· Corticosteroids – reduces inflammation and suppresses the immune system.
Stretching and mobilization techniques can improve pain, stiffness and range of motion. The common surgical options are joint repair, joint replacement and joint fusion. Your doctor will discuss whether surgery is a suitable option for you.
Whilst there is not a lot of evidence surrounding alternative medicines, studies have shown that acupuncture, massage, yoga and tai chi are the most likely to help. Make sure you consult with a health care professional before starting any new treatment; and ensure your therapist is licensed and understands your condition.