Arthritis, and its effects on us as humans, is a hard condition to quantify. I have read studies that say 27 million people in the United States suffer from osteoarthritis, the most common form of the condition. More than 20 million are affected by other types, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis. In order to understand more about it, we need to examine the different types of arthritis and its causes.
Types of Arthritis:
- Osteoarthritis (OA) – Also called degenerative joint disease, the most common form of arthritis and the focus of this article below.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) – An inflammatory arthritis in which the body’s immune system attacks its own joints, and tissues. RA is diagnosed with blood tests, and requires medication to manage it when it gets severe. It causes redness, pain and warmth in the hand joints, and sufferers can develop deformities in the hands and feet.
- Gout – This inflammatory arthritis is different than the others since it usually comes in acute attacks. Severe pain, mostly in the big toe, results from an overabundance of a chemical found in the blood, called Uric Acid. This chemical forms crystals (like grains of salt) inside the joint. Medication is needed to dissolve the crystals, and is used along with dietary changes to avoid flare ups.
- Psoriatic Arthritis – The skin condition, psoriasis, sometimes comes with joint pain and stiffness. Its cause is not fully understood, but may be autoimmune in nature, like RA.
- Lyme Disease – This is the tick borne disease that is common in Connecticut (it was discovered in Lyme, CT in the 1970s.) We are getting better at detecting it early and treating it completely with antibiotics. Years ago, however, many cases went undiagnosed and untreated, especially if the bullseye rash was not detected. This allowed the bacteria, called spirochetes, to hide from the body’s defenses, and emerge periodically to cause wide ranging problems. A common place for the spirochetes to hide is the joints. Because of this, many chronic Lyme patients complain of recurring joint pain.
- Some other causes of arthritis are Lupus, fibromyalgia, and ankylosing spondylitis. Many of these conditions are associated with other diseases and conditions, with joint pain as one of many symptoms.
Causes of Degenerative Arthritis
Degenerative arthritis – in the arms, legs or in the spine – arises as the joints wear down over time. From the time we stop growing, in our teens, our skeletons begin the slow process of breaking down. Based on genetics or injuries, some people progress faster in this process, but no one is immune.
Take a joint like the knuckle on your finger, for instance. It is designed to move in one direction – forward and back – and as long as this is all it’s asked to do, it works without complaint. However, imagine if an injury causes one side of the joint to twist very slightly as it bends. The joint cartilage will rub slightly more on side than the other. The ligaments, which help guide the joint along its normal path, become stressed in a direction they are not used to.
These two tissues – joint cartilage and ligaments – are the primary tissues affected by degenerative arthritis. The good news is that our bodies can repair and remodel themselves, to deal with and adapt to the new way of moving.
This repair and remodel process shows up on xray, which is how arthritis is often diagnosed. If we took an xray of our slightly injured finger after a decade or so, we might see a difference in the joint spacing from side to side. That represent the abnormal wearing on the joint cartilage as one side becomes thinner. We might start to see spurs form next to the joint. These spurs can look like hooks next to a joint on xray. They result from calcium laid down in the ligaments to strengthen them. If the body cannot keep up with the changes, the joint will start to become painful, and that is where we would say arthritis begins.
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Since the pain is arising from long term malfunction or injury to a joint, there is often chronic or periodic pain in the area in the years leading up to the diagnosis of arthritis. This generally feels like any other type of musculoskeletal pain, aching or soreness with intermittent sharp pain, especially with movement. This type of pain pattern can continue after arthritis becomes evident on x-ray, but there is also an “arthritic” type pain that develops with more advanced degeneration.
Arthritic pain is usually described as a gradual, deep ache that comes on after overexerting a joint with arthritis. The pain increases over a few days, stays for some time, then starts to recede. The joint often feels very stiff, and there is an urge to move it or rub it for relief.
Chiropractic Treatment of Arthritis
Dr French specializes in musculoskeletal pain and injuries, so for degenerative type arthritis, our office is a good place to start. We can help diagnose the pain, to determine whether the pain is from an injury to the joint or is actually from arthritis. Even if you have seen arthritis on an xray, which everyone develops over time, your current pain may not be from that condition.
If we determine that arthritis is causing your pain, nothing can be done to reverse the condition. But, we can do a lot to reduce or eliminate the symptoms. We use Chiropractic adjustments to move nearby joints that are putting more strain on the arthritic joint. At home, arthritis pain responds better to moist heat than ice. In fact, it is one of the few times I prefer to use heat over ice for pain. There is debate in the scientific community whether cold weather actually makes arthritis pain worse. Movement is also key to limiting pain. As the joint degenerates, it appears that it loses its ability to lubricate itself. One of the treatments for moderate arthritis in the knee is an injection of lubricating fluid. Light exercise stimulates crucial joint fluid production. I can recommend exercises that can keep the joints loose, and give some ideas on how to avoid flare ups.