The term Arthritis is widely used to describe the inflammation of joints, however there are over 100 types of arthritis including Osteoarthritis (OA) and Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Osteoarthritis is the most common, affecting millions of people around the world. A whopping 1.5 million US adults over the age of 40 have symptoms, the highest proportion of sufferers are female and the largest risk factor by far is obesity. Women often gain weight when they go through the menopause causing increased stress and pressure on their joints.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease and although it can affect any joint, it typically affects the knees, hips, spine, and hands. It occurs when the protective cartilage and underlying bone that cushions the ends of bones begin to deteriorate and wears away gradually over time causing stiffness, pain, and joint malformation, unfortunately, there is no cure. Rheumatoid arthritis on the other hand is different, it’s a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects over 1.3 million Americans and is not just confined to your joints. The body mistakenly treats the lining around your joints as a threat and begins to attack causing pain and swelling, usually beginning with the smaller joints, first in the hands, feet, and wrists, progressing to the knees, ankles, elbows, hips, and shoulders. In certain cases, the condition can cause damage to the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. Rheumatoid arthritis is also most common in women, who are 3 times more likely to suffer from it than men and often experience a higher degree of pain.
The main symptoms of Osteoarthritis are stiffness, pain, and a decreased range of mobility. When Osteoarthritis affects the joints of the hip or knee you may find it increasingly difficult and particularly painful to climb up or downstairs and perform simple tasks such as removing footwear or getting in and out of bed. Writing, opening a jar or the simple action of turning a key in the door can all become painful if Osteoarthritis is in the joints of your hands, and you may also experience pain when resting or sleeping. With Osteoarthritis you will usually only experience symptoms in one or two joints at any one time. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are different as pain, aching and stiffness will be felt in more than one joint with the same symptoms occurring simultaneously on both sides of the body such as both hips or both hands. You may also suffer from weakness or fever. Joint stiffness in the morning caused by Rheumatoid arthritis will linger for a lot longer than that caused by Osteoarthritis which usually wears off within 30 minutes of waking up.
Maintaining a healthy weight and taking regular exercise are massively important for anyone suffering from either Rheumatoid or Osteoarthritis, however too much or the wrong exercise could cause further damage to your joints. So seek advice from a health professional who can advise you on how often and what type of exercise you should undertake and then stick to it, as you will strengthen your joints, build muscle, improve your posture, maintain a healthy weight and reduce any levels of stress. A healthy balanced diet containing lots of nutritious anti-inflammatory foods is also very important as it will help to reduce your symptoms rather than amplify them. Try to eat plenty of oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, or sardines, and lots of dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale, fresh fruit, nuts, and seeds. All of these foods will help to reduce inflammation and prevent further damage to your joints.
Maintaining good posture when sitting for long periods of time is important if you want to keep on top of pain. Ideally, you should be sitting in a comfortable chair that supports both your lower and mid back. Make sure the chair you are sitting on is the correct height, your feet should be flat on the floor with your hips and knees at a 90-degree angle. Your shoulders should be relaxed and not slumped so make sure the armrests are not too high, or too low that your elbows don’t reach them. Getting enough sleep due to pain can also be a big problem for people with arthritis as levels of cortisol, a hormone that controls inflammation and regulates stress are reduced at night when you lie down, causing your joints to stiffen. Experimenting and making yourself more comfortable with pillows or cushions can help with both falling and staying asleep. If your pain is severe you could consider purchasing a rise and recline chair or an adjustable bed which will allow you to change your position more easily at the touch of a button, raising your head or legs, taking the pressure off your joints.
Remember, Rheumatoid and Osteoarthritis are both long term conditions, make sure you take good care of yourself by making the right lifestyle changes and accepting professional help, maintaining regular contact with a healthcare team, and having regular checks to control your condition is very important. You can help yourself by eating a healthy balanced diet full of anti-inflammatory foods such as dark leafy greens, small oily fish, fruit nuts, and seeds, this will reduce rather than increase your levels of inflammation and prevent any further joint damage, a paleo diet is highly recommended. Try also to get as much exercise as you can when you can and make sure you are getting plenty of rest when you need it. Always maintain good posture when sitting for long periods of time and think about investing in a comfortable chair or bed that can be raised or lowered, allowing you to change your position, take the pressure off your joints and ease any pain. Take all medication you have been instructed to and make sure you are having regular reviews.