Arthritis is a musculoskeletal disorder that involves the deterioration of the soft tissues of the joints, such as cartilage, resulting in pain, weakness, and loss of function of the affected joints.  Although there is the misconception that inflammation of the joints is the result of arthritis, it is actually completely the opposite. Arthritis is characterized by the breakdown of connective tissue between the joints, with inflammation being one of the leading components that leads to that breakdown.

According to the Centers for Decease Control (CDC), a recent study reported that during the period of 2007-2009, 50 million adults in the United States had arthritis, showing a significant increase from 2003-2005. Thus, based on this information the CDC estimates that by the year 2030 approximately 67 million Americans will suffer from this ailment – suggesting an increase in the number of adults suffering from arthritis to approximately one million every year.

Two Main Types of Arthritis

Although there are different kinds of arthritis, there are two main types of arthritis – rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. According to Dr. Anju Sharma, D.O., when people think of arthritis, they are most likely thinking about Osteoarthritis – the most common type of arthritis, which is marked by pain, inflammation, and changes in the bones. This type of arthritis is not just caused by old age because the joints are worn out, although this is one of the factors. It is a complex decease with many different types of arthritis falling under this main category, all with different risk factors, treatments, and even possible prevention. Other factors contributing to the onset of Osteoarthritis include wear and tear of the joints, muscle weakness, trauma, over use (i.e. due to work or sports), and obesity. In fact, according to the CDC, one in three obese adults in the US reports having arthritis. Additionally, you can also be genetically predisposed to this type of arthritis. In recent studies conducted by a group of scientists from North America and Europe, researchers were able to identify three genes linked to a higher risk of developing Osteoarthritis.

The other type of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, is the least common type of arthritis affecting the bones in addition to the joints and connective tissue. According to Dr. Sharma, who is a board certified specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, this type of arthritis is more of an inflammatory type of arthritis, where the body’s autoimmune system attacks the joints. This disorder is mostly characterized by big swollen knuckles, joint stiffness, pain, weakness, and inability to move the joint.

Treating the Condition

Most common treatments for both types of arthritis involve daily stretching and a basic exercise program. Something as simple as walking is good for arthritis. Even bicycling is good for arthritis. The key is to loosen up the joints. People don’t realize that by sitting and not exercising so as to not aggravate the pain, they are actually worsening the situation. What they need to do is the opposite – people need to get moving and will be pleasantly surprised how much it helps.

Weight control is important as the heavier the individual is, the higher the stress and pressure on the joints, causing added wear and tear and thus more pain. Physical therapy is also very helpful for arthritis sufferers as it strengthens the muscles around the joints. Simple hot and cold compresses also help. However, for more advanced cases where the pain is hard to control with physical therapy and exercise alone, physicians can treat the condition more aggressively with anti-inflammatory medication, as well as dispensing steroid injections or “gel shots.” The “gel shots” consist of having a gel-like material injected into the joint to help cushion the joints – most commonly used in the knees or elbows.

Taking an Active Role in Arthritis Prevention and Control

In a nutshell, healthy living, weight control and exercising regularly can make a world of difference. Avoiding overuse of certain joints can also play a key role in preventing the onset of arthritis. Most important is trying to keep the inflammation down throughout the body which helps keep arthritis under control. Thus, one of the best ways to help control inflammation, not just in the joints, but throughout your body, is to consume an anti-inflammatory diet. For instance, common staples in most American households include some of the most inflammatory things that we can eat: fried and processed foods that contain trans fats, concentrated forms of sugar, refined carbohydrates and highly refined oxidized omega-6 oils like soybean, vegetable, corn, canola, and sunflower oils. Alcohol, especially beer, as well as grain-fed meats and dairy are also inflammatory. Often, people find that when they start to limit or eliminate the intake of these foods from their diet, they not only feel relief from the pain and stiffness due to arthritis, but also feel better in general.

So, what are good foods to eat that will help with inflammation problems? Well, some of the best anti-inflammatory foods are those that contain Omega-3 fatty acids such as grass-fed meats and dairy. Other foods with anti-inflammatory properties include: olive oil, avocados, tart cherries, apples, onions and green tea. Also, cold water fish such as salmon and sardines (especially if it is not farmed). Additionally, using anti-inflammatory spices in your cooking such as turmeric (curcumin) and ginger will help greatly. Lastly, inflammation can also be alleviated by taking natural supplements such as vitamin D and curcumin.

Whether you are predisposed to arthritis or have to live with the disorder due to circumstances beyond your control, it is important to remember that a great deal of how limiting this condition can be is in your hands. Taking an active role in the prevention and treatment of the disease will put you back in control of your life rather than letting arthritis limit and control how you live.

Story: Maritza Manresa

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