Pain that impedes your movement can be the worst – it not only affects major activities during the day like work or school, it also hinders your mood and confidence! You lose your appetite, you don’t want to get out of bed, and you can’t exercise! The terror that is Arthritis is brutally world devastating! (Okay, I might have gone a little overboard there. But you get my point; arthritis really, REALLY hurts you bad.
You’d have to agree with me, everyone who’s ever even felt arthritis or is currently experiencing it, or has a family member or friend who is agonizingly enduring it; know its overwhelming effects not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. Especially when experienced in long term or deemed as “Chronic Pain.” According to painmanagement.org.au:
“…Individuals suffering from chronic pain are more prone to psychological distress such as anxiety and depression than those in the general community. Long term pain puts a lot of stress on the brain and cognitive issues such as low mood, difficulty with memory or concentration are familiar, no matter what the underlying pain condition is…”
Now for the physical side of the pain it’s obvious; when pain hinders your movement, both productivity and health deteriorate. Everyday physical activities need proper movement – eating, hygiene, exercise, etc. – It’s going to be a steady decline if you don’t do anything about that pain! Your life may become sedentary, you’ll be less physically fit and prone to muscle atrophy (That means “an unhealthy decrease in strength and size;” you won’t be popular with the ladies anymore! Nor to men too if you’re a woman – Not that we prefer muscular women, you know what we mean. Haha!) you won’t be performing at peak efficiency at work (Your boss will probably hate you for that! Unless you’re the boss, then… uhmm… It’s your employees that may suffer. Whew) and you won’t be able to concentrate on your lessons at school if you’re a student or professor (Teaching and/or studying is hard enough as it is!)
For a disorder that affects both your mind and body, we need the help of an understanding of its origins, causes and effects to combat that pain at its source. Because the improper remedy may just cost you more with zero relief or cure. Read along and let’s seep into the deep depths of what arthritis really is:
The origins of the word “Arthritis” is actually simple: ARTHRO, a Greek word meaning “joint” and the suffix -ITIS which in medical terms means “inflammation.” -Waite, Maurice, ed. 2012. Paperback Oxford English Dictionary p.3
“…When joints are inflamed, they can develop stiffness, warmth, swelling, redness and pain…” -medicinenet.com
“…When joints are inflamed, they can develop stiffness, warmth, swelling, redness and pain…” -medicinenet.com
Although the origin and definition of the word Arthritis means “inflammation of the joints” the term is loosely used to include approximately 100 (That’s a pretty HUGE number!) inflammatory and non-inflammatory diseases that affect the joints, connective tissue, and other supporting tissue. -Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge 2002, Book 2 – Arthritis p.167
Types of Arthritis
There are more than 100 different forms of arthritis and related diseases. (And we can’t cover everything on this article, mind you – we’d take like, weeks tackling each one! You’d be bored too cause I can’t keep wisecracking at every part!) For an in-depth of these, you may browse through http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/ which provides links and information on those disorders. For now, we’ll tackle the most common kinds:
According to arthritis.org, the most common types are: osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis (PsA), fibromyalgia and gout. All of them cause pain in different ways.
Causes and Symptoms
Osteoarthritis is the most common of all kinds of arthritis and is mainly caused by “wear and tear” of the body, specifically the cartilage which works with synovial fluid in between the bones that facilitates smooth, painless, movement by lessening the friction between the bones at rest or during movement. (Think of it like a sweet, soft cushion between two hard bones. Take that away and its bone-on-bone! Ack! No wonder its painful!)
That is why the main people who suffer this kind of arthritis are the elderly, the overweight and even athletes who over train. The main thing they have in common is their susceptibility to the breaking down of cartilage between the bones – the elderly body is anatomically degenerating, and the overweight and over trained athlete adds unneeded pressure to the cartilage.
The most common symptoms are pain and stiffness, particularly first thing in the morning or after resting. (I would not want this - I am NOT a morning person! And I want to sleep sound and wake up fresh!) Affected joints may get swollen, especially after extended activity. The usual areas affected are the hips, knees, and lower back. (These are the most “weight-bearing” joints, those that usually has the most pressure to support the body. Talk about heavy baggage. Whoa.)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease causing pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in the joints. A healthy immune system protects the body by attacking foreign bacteria and viruses, but an autoimmune disease causes the body to mistakenly attack healthy tissue. -rheumatoidarthritis.org
(Yikes! It’s your own body fighting over your own body! I like “competing with myself,” but THIS is taking it too far!)
Genetics and exposure to pathogens and pollutants (means all kinds of harmful organisms like bacteria, viruses, pollution, second hand smoke, etc. – makes us appreciate those sometimes annoying VAPE guys now, seriously guys, thanks for not breathing disease into our noses.) play a key role in causing this disorder. Which means some people may carry a specific genetic susceptibility that when combined with exposure leads to an autoimmune reaction. This autoimmune reaction attacks the bones, cartilages and synovial membranes responsible for smooth movement with less friction, and this leads to the painful symptoms as earlier mentioned.
Psoriatic Arthritis most commonly occurs to and affects people who have (You guessed it!) psoriasis.
“About 30 percent of people with psoriasis also develop a form of inflammatory arthritis called psoriatic arthritis.” – psoriasis.org
Its symptoms and effects are fairly the similar with rheumatoid arthritis because they are both caused by an autoimmune reaction. (You know - that very LITERAL breaking-yourself-down thing we mentioned earlier.) The only difference is while rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the autoimmunity brought by genetics and exposure – psoriatic arthritis is chiefly caused by the complications of the disease, psoriasis.
Fibromyalgia is a different kind of arthritis altogether. While the others we discussed were caused by physical disturbances, this is focused on the mental side – there are no physical deficiencies found in the body, but the brain interprets the slightest pressure as pain and this leads to pain in the joints and its movement – enter Arthritis, Fibromyalgia. (I’d like to call it “It’s all in your head” pain. If I’d have one, it’s going to be very difficult to treat - because I am quite the hard-headed guy! Get it? ---tough crowd, eh?)
“Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals. ” – mayoclinic.org
“There are several theories about the causes of fibromyalgia, from hormonal disturbances to stress to genetics. While there is no clear consensus about what causes fibromyalgia, most researchers believe fibromyalgia results not from a single event but from a combination of many physical and emotional stressors.” – webmd.com
Gout or gouty arthritis is brought about by an excess of uric acid in the body. While uric acid in itself is not harmful, an excess of it in the blood can cause a buildup of hard uric acid crystals or “urate crystals” which then presents itself in between the bones where the synovial fluid cushion is – causing stiffness, sudden burning pain, swelling and redness in the joint usually on the big toe. (I chose the most “friendly” picture I could find; I’d advise you readers with a sensitive stomach to avoid googling images of this stuff – you have been warned.)
According to webmd.com, your chances of getting gout are higher if you are overweight, drink too much alcohol, or eat too much meat and fish that are high in chemicals called purines. Some medicines, such as water pills (diuretics), can also bring on gout.
Different causes calls for different prevention and treatment. Though some of these diseases may be inevitable if genetic or in-born, most are actually easy to address and prevent! (Remember, prevention is ALWAYS better than cure! Costs less too!)
· How to Prevent: Proper Nutrition is the key, either through various supplements or diet regimens to prevent bone and cartilage deterioration. Keep your weight in check (Hello cardio… treadmill… sweat… and diet…) and avoid adding too much harmful pressure on your weight bearing joints. Exercise well with proper stretching.
o Physical Activity (I know it hurts, but hear me out! Range-of-motion exercise helps maintain and improve joint flexibility and reduce stiffness. Aerobic exercise helps to improve stamina and energy levels and also help to reduce excess weight. Talk to a doctor before starting an exercise program - says artritis.org)
o Assistive Devices
o Pain and Anti-inflammatory Medications (Because inflammation is the main cause of the discomfort! Check with the doctor on what best medications is prescribed for you.)
o Natural and Alternative Therapies (These include nutritional supplements, natural homeopathic pain relievers, acupuncture or acupressure, massage, relaxation techniques and hydrotherapy, among others!)
· How to Prevent: Though risk factors like genetics, history and age cannot be altered, (don’t worry!) it is the exposure to pathogens and other harmful organisms that may be addressed for prevention – like how you should Stop smoking and avoid second hand smoke, exercise and maintain a healthy weight, have a balanced diet, avoid getting exposed to harmful pollution.
· Treatment: The treatment of rheumatoid arthritis optimally involves a combination of:
o Patient education for relaxation and pain management
o Rest and Exercise
o Joint protection
o Medications for pain and inflammation
(Notice that when the prevention may be different, most of the treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis is the similar as Osteoarthritis!)
· How to Prevent: Psoriatic arthritis can't be prevented or cured, but can be treated. It's not easy to predict who will get this painful joint condition, but if you're at risk, watch for early symptoms such as swollen and painful fingers and toes. -health.com
o Medications – NSAIDS (Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs) Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, Immunosuppressants, TNF-alpha inhibitors.
o Surgical and other procedures - Steroid injections. Joint replacement surgery.
· How to prevent: Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent fibromyalgia. However, proper treatment and a few lifestyle changes can help reduce the frequency and severity of your symptoms. Rather than preventing the syndrome, people spend their time preventing flare-ups of symptoms. –aarpmedicareplans.com (This usually includes proper rest and relaxation, and a healthy lifestyle complete with exercise and a proper balanced diet!)
o Drugs, alternative remedies, and lifestyle habits that may help decrease pain and improve sleep.
o Pain medication or antidepressants to help treat the pain, fatigue, depression, and anxiety that comes with the disease.
o Physical therapy, moist heat, regular aerobic exercise, relaxation, and stress reduction to help you self-manage your symptoms.
o (There is no one "pill" that treats or cures fibromyalgia. A multidisciplinary approach that uses both medication and alternative or lifestyle strategies seems to work best to treat fibromyalgia symptoms.) –webmd.com
· How to prevent: A healthy balanced diet, avoiding food rich in uric acid (or those very high in purine!) is the best bet to avoid this kind of arthritis as its main cause is uric acid building up and crystalizing. Avoid Organ meats, such as liver, kidneys, sweetbreads, and brains. Meats, including bacon, beef, pork, and lamb. Game meats. Any other meats in large amounts. Anchovies, sardines, herring, mackerel, and scallops. Gravy. Beer.
· Treatment: Treatment for gout includes pain relief to help you cope with a gout attack, as well as medication and lifestyle changes to prevent further attacks.
o NSAIDS (Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs)
o Avoiding foods containing high levels of purine
o Avoiding sugary drinks and snacks (Agh!)
o Maintaining a healthy weight
o Drinking plenty of water (Keeping yourself well hydrated will reduce the risk of crystals forming in your joints)
o Cutting down on alcohol – avoid beer and spirits. (Agh!!)
Now that we’ve reached the end of this journey, let me tell you: It’s been great educating you, the reader about this painful disease we call “Arthritis” (The occurrence that we wished to have NEVER existed in the first place!) Research and education has done wonders to create barriers and weapons we may use to combat this horrible illness. May you treat this newfound knowledge well and use it to help counter all the suffering our enemy, Arthritis, has caused our fellow brothers and sisters – (Let us take arms to fight against this disease together!) And as I bid adios, a reminder is in place. Whether you are a witness, a victim, or just a person who is yet to experience the horrors of Arthritis – remember, knowledge of the enemy is power, and if you know how to attack this disorder, then there is no need to worry at all.
(Dramatic drum exit follows…….with fireworks)
Waite, Maurice, ed. 2012. Paperback Oxford English Dictionary. OUP Oxford.
Grolier 2002 Encyclopedia of Knowledge, Book 2
Wollenhaupt J, Zeidler H 1998. Undifferentiated arthritis and reactive arthritis. Current opinion in rheumatology.
Martini, Bartholomew. 2007 The Essentials of Anatomy and Physiology, Fourth Edition