Although my 97-year-old grandfather still enjoys a weekly game of golf, his arthritis makes the game less enjoyable than it once was. My 95-year-old grandmother had to give up her favourite pastime, knitting, because her arthritic hands made the task impossible. Even my parents who are in their 60s are having to modify their lifestyle because their joints are starting to give them grief.
Arthritis, unfortunately can still develop in younger, previously healthy people.
Take Carlie Stewart for example. Before the birth of her child, she was active and pain free, following her son’s arrival, she began noticing changes in her body and experiencing chronic pain.
“Wake ups to me are frustratingly hard. Instead of feeling refreshed after my 8-10 hour sleep (pre-baby), my 5.30am wake up calls (thanks son) are filled with shoots of pain through my crippling hands and cracking knees as I slowly stretch them open. This of course followed by dull muscle aches in my arms as I try to pull the covers off, slip my feet into my slippers and slide my dressing gown on. Next mission standing….many thoughts go through my head at this point, how bad from 0-10 is my pain going to be will I manage the aching in the souls of my feet all of this before I have even left the bedroom.”
Carlie was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis shortly after the birth of her son.
“What I thought were new mum aches, pains and severe fatigue turned out to be arthritis and anaemia” said Carlie.
Arthritis is a very common condition and it is the major cause of disability and chronic pain in Australia. According to leading researcher Access Economics, current trends suggest that, by 2050, seven million Australians will suffer from some form of arthritis. According to Arthritis New Zealand, 620,000 New Zealanders are also living with the condition.
While it is commonly considered to be a consequence of age, Arthritis Australia says the condition is not a natural part of ageing, and can affect people of all ages.
Arthritis is an umbrella term for more than 100 medical conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system, specifically joints where bones meets. Arthritis-related problems include pain, stiffness, inflammation, joint weakness, instability and deformities, which can interfere with the most basic daily tasks, such as walking, driving a car, and preparing food.
While there is no cure for arthritis, there are lifestyle changes that can support and manage symptoms, to improve quality of life.
Early intervention is key
Research suggests that early intervention not only delays the onset of the disease, it may also help you to side step the condition. Although your genes play a large role in whether or not you will develop arthritis, there are things you can do to preserve joint health.
Put your best food forward
Limit high heel shoes to special occasions. Heels put extra stress on your knees and feet.
Stand and stretch
Maintain a healthy weight
If you are overweight, research has shown that losing as little as five kilograms may improve your joint health and cut your risk of osteoarthritis of the knee by 50 per cent.
Make sure you are getting enough calcium and vitamin D to keep your bones strong. We all know calcium is vital for bone health, but minerals such as zinc, phosphorus and magnesium – along with vitamin D – promote calcium absorption and play a part in strengthening and protecting our skeletons. Learn more here.
Enjoy a fish meal each week
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in cold-water fish such as salmon and mackerel, can help keep your joints healthy.
Range-of-motion exercises (such as stretching) are a good way to keep your muscles and ligaments flexible and strong. Swimming and low impact exercises are easy on your joints and keep you well. Weights are great for improving strength and balance.
Try these exercises for all-over body tone and increased flexibility.
Research from the UK has shown that cigarette smoking increases the risk of developing arthritis.
The onset of OA is subtle – the first symptom is generally morning joint stiffness, then pain that worsens with prolonged joint use, relieved by rest. This may lead to general loss of function of the area.
In treating OA, initially the main objective is management of pain. It is then important to consider preserving the function of the affected joint and preventing further damage. To manage the pain, anti-inflammatory treatment is beneficial. Essential fatty acids, particularly the omega 3 variety, will provide lubrication for the joints as well anti-inflammatory effects. Ginger and turmeric are also very valuable anti-inflammatory herbs.
To preserve function of the joint and prevent further damage, doing what we can to promote cartilage synthesis is important. Glucosamine is found in the cartilage and chondroitin in both cartilage and bone. Given the involvement of both cartilage and bone in OA it is important to provide both of these nutrients concurrently. Vitamin A, E, B6, zinc and copper are also important for the synthesis of cartilage, aiding in preserving the integrity of the joint. Many OA patients are copper deficient and, when used topically, copper has shown anti-inflammatory effects. This is why many OA patients wear a copper bangle.
Other important nutrients to consider in the promotion of cartilage synthesis are vitamin D and boron. Boron is involved in the synthesis of vitamin D and has been used for many years in treating OA. Studies show that vitamin D may slow the progression and possibly help prevent the development of OA.
It’s also important OA sufferers consider physical elements, such as the maintenance of ideal weight. Taking the stress of extra weight off the joints can be beneficial in slowing the progress of the disease.
We hear all the time about the effects of oxidative stress and its influence on disease. There is no exception with OA, as oxidation is also believed to contribute to the progression of the disease. It is therefore important to provide high levels of antioxidants to protect against oxidative damage and reduce inflammation. Vitamin C is a great antioxidant and promotes cartilage health.
Avoiding foods that create an acidic environment such as coffee, alcohol and sugar is also important. Nightshade vegetables such as potato, tomato, eggplant and capsicum are also known to aggravate arthritic conditions and should be avoided if possible.
Remember to always seek professional advice from your naturopath or chosen health practitioner to meet your individual needs.
Learn more about how to manage arthritis here.
Bones can become increasingly fragile and lose minerals over the years so it’s important to keep them healthy by eating the right foods. Here’s what you need to know to keep bones strong.