Arthritis is a general term which is commonly associated with a number of painful conditions affecting the joints and bones. The term “arthritis” literally translates to “joint inflammation.”
There are approximately 100 different forms of this condition, and it affects millions of people throughout the world. Symptoms can include joint pain, stiffness, inflammation, and limited movement of joints. When a joint is inflamed, it may be swollen, tender, red, or warm to the touch.
In a healthy joint, the ends of the bones are covered by cartilage, a spongy material that allows almost frictionless motion between bones. The joints are enclosed in a capsule and lined with tissue called the synovium. This lining releases a slippery, lubricating fluid that helps the joint move smoothly and easily.
With arthritis, the cartilage may be damaged or worn away by degenerative processes or by inflammation, making movement painful and difficult. If left undiagnosed and untreated, arthritis may progress to cause irreversible damage to the joints.
Contrary to popular belief, arthritis affects all age groups. It’s more common in those over forty-five, and in the case of osteoarthritis, three-fourths of the cases occur in women.
The foundational causes of arthritis are dependent upon the form of arthritis.
For instance, in some cases arthritis is the result of injury. A tweaked knee, a dislocated elbow, a damaged shoulder could all potentially result in an arthritic condition in the following years. In forms of arthritis such as gout and pseudo-gout, which are caused by deposits of crystals called calcium pyrophosphate, the cause is considered to be a metabolic abnormality. There are also hereditary factors and infections that can cause arthritis. And finally, there are some forms of arthritis in which we simply haven’t been able to identify a cause.
Traditional arthritis treatment has been through the use of drugs that are designed to minimize the symptoms. For example, joint inflammation and swelling can often be reduced, and pain can often be controlled. Of course, these are not cures. There really isn’t a cure for the arthritic condition at this time.
Arthritis Joint Pain
Arthritis pain can be intense and unrelenting.
While pain is generally considered the worse symptom of arthritis, some forms of arthritis are more painful than others. Pain can be the result of joint fatigue and/or inflammation of the membrane around the joints, tendons and ligaments.
Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout are the three most common forms. So let’s take a quick look at each of these:
Osteoarthritis (OA) is believed to be caused by the gradual wear on the body’s joints. It tends to affect the weight bearing joints. These include the knees, ankles, hands, arms, and hips. Generally it goes undetected until the later stages, when much of the joint cartilage is already gone. It’s the rubbing of bone against bone that creates the pain. The cushion provided by the cartilage is either worn down to a point where it’s no long effective, or it no longer exists.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is different in that the body’s own immune system attacks the joint tissue. Why this happens is still largely unknown in medical circles. Symptoms include inflammation, pain, stiffness, weakness, and often a deforming of the joints. It begins in the hands, wrists and feet, and advances to the shoulders, elbows and hips. This is a chronic disease that can potentially cause complete debility of the joints.
Gout is identifiable by the high level of pain affecting a single joint. It generally occurs in the big toe, with symptoms that include intense pain, swelling, stiffness, and a warm feeling. The exact cause is unknown; although deposits of crystals are believe to be involved.
While cartilage itself does not cause pain – it has no nerve endings to transmit pain signals — the irritation of other tissues in and around the affected joints does. This is particularly true in the case of Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Unfortunately, pain and stiffness similar to the symptoms of Rheumatoid
Arthritis can be caused by many other conditions, such as injury or infection.
Only a medical professional can identify the true source of joint pain.
So what is arthritis pain all about? Why does it happen?
The purpose of pain is to let you know that something’s wrong in your body. It does this by releasing a chemical signal to the brain from the area that’s injured or not functioning correctly. The brain receives this signal as a pain response. The classic example is when you place your hand on a hot stove.
The nerves in your hand send a message to the brain alerting it that damage is being done, and your brain responds by encouraging you to pull your hand away from the hot surface. It’s a safety mechanism, designed to protect your body.
Arthritic pain is different in the sense that it’s long lasting and you can’t simply pull your hand away to bring about relief. Those who are afflicted with arthritis may experience little pain for a period of time, and then experience sudden flare ups without any apparent reason.
The secret to living with arthritis is learning to manage the pain.
This can be done in a number of ways. There are medications for arthritis.
There are alternative approaches to managing your arthritis pain, as well. In fact, we’ll explore some of these in this report. And then there are the little day-to-day factors that help relieve pain.
For instance, arthritis pain can be aggravated by fatigue, stress, and/or too much physical exertion, depending on the form of arthritis and the level of fatigue. By being in tune with your body and aware of your limits, you can avoid additional pain simply by reducing these factors in your life.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways people deal with arthritis joint pain.
Traditional Arthritis Pain Management
Medications, physiotherapy, exercise programs, and surgery are all traditional treatments for arthritis, depending on the form of the arthritis and the extent of damage it’s already done. The more serious the condition, the more likely you’ll have several doctors involved in your treatment, including an arthritis specialist and a physiotherapist.
Generally, the goal is to reduce the inflammation and swelling of the affected joint, thereby preventing further damage and reducing the pain.
Most arthritis medications fall into three categories:
- Those that relieve pain.
- Those that reduce inflammation or the body process that causes swelling, warmth, and redness.
- Those that slow the disease process and limit further damage to the joints.
For a fortunate few, an over the counter painkiller such as Tylenol, Datril, or Anacin-3 is all they need to control their arthritis pain. The cheapest of your choices for pain relief, these drugs are ideal for mild to moderate pain.
However, they do not relieve inflammation and may increase the risk of liver problems, especially in heavy alcohol drinkers.
For the vast majority of arthritis sufferers, however, the pain is simply too intense and too debilitating.
The most commonly prescribed category of drugs for arthritis is known as and NSAIDS. NSAIDS stands for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs used for moderate to severe arthritis pain and keep the inflammation of the area affected by arthritis to a minimum, allowing for a decrease in pain and stiffness, and possibly giving the joint a slightly greater range of motion.
Side effects include nausea, diarrhea, and dyspepsia. Some NSAIDs may interfere with other medications or aggravate existing conditions, so consult your doctor before taking any.
COX-2 Inhibitors. These are a new class of NSAIDs that cause fewer side effects. They are usually more expensive, but are generally considered safer than other NSAIDs. Celebrex is probably the best- known in this category of drugs.
The next most common arthritis treatment is the use of a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD). This category includes several unrelated medications intended to slow or stop the progression of the disease and prevent disability and discomfort. DMARDs include Rheumatrex (methotrexate), Azulfidine (sulfasalazine), and Arava (leflunomide).
Corticosteroids do not relieve arthritis pain, but reduce the symptoms that aggravate it, such as heat and inflammation. They are commonly used for treating severe osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis pain. These work by reducing swelling and inflammation. Since corticosteroids are steroidal, and very similar to a compound produced in the adrenal glands, dosage varies fro case to case. If used over a long period of time or in too high of doses, corticosteroids have been determined to lead to long term problems such as brittle bones, cataracts, elevated blood sugar, and an increased susceptibility to infections throughout the body.
Opioids include strong analgesics such as morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and meperidine. They work well of severe, acute arthritis pain, but are seldom prescribed because they can be addictive.
Narcotic analgesics are either strong analgesics or a combination of weak and strong ones, such as acetaminophen and codeine. They are used to relieve severe pain, particularly when over-the-counter analgesics do not work. They are best used for short-term treatment, as they can cause serious side effects when taken regularly.
Topical analgesics refer to external applications such as creams, oils and ointments. Because they are applied only on the affected area, there is lower risk of side effects. However, the relief is usually short-lived. They work for specific types of arthritis pain, such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis attacks.
Biologic Arthritis Treatments
Biological products are a relatively new class of drugs for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. These treatments are derived from living sources, such as cell culture systems. Conventional drugs, on the other hand, are chemically synthesized. Currently licensed biologics reduce inflammation and structural damage of the joints by blocking a substance called tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a protein involved in immune system responses.
Enbrel (etanercept) was the first biologic to receive FDA approval for patients with moderate-to-severe rheumatoid arthritis. Enbrel decreases pain and morning stiffness and improves joint swelling and tenderness. The two other
TNF-blocking products approved to treat rheumatoid arthritis are Remicade (infliximab) and Humira (adalimumab). All three TNF blockers have been shown to improve physical function in two year studies
Natural Arthritis Pain Relief
There are a number of natural approaches to arthritis pain relief. Generally, these are for milder cases. However, they can still be used to take the edge off the more severe and insistent arthritis pain as well.
Let’s take a look at some of these.
A healthier diet and lifestyle can help reduce weight, which in turn takes some of the strain off the cartilage and joints. This is particularly the case in osteoarthritis. By dropping weight, overweight people can reduce the future risk of arthritis in the future. And for those who are already dealing with the condition, it can minimize some of the symptoms while improving mobility.
For Gout – Eliminate High Purine Foods
Gout can be agonizing. The pain is often so intense that simple sensations such as placing a blanket over your feet can cause extreme suffering.
There is controversy around the causes of gout. Many believe that it’s caused by years of alcohol consumption coupled with a lack of proper diet and exercise. Those with a diet that lacks purine-neutralizing substances such as cherries, strawberries, and celery may also be more at risk for gout development.
Purine is a substance that’s found within the body. When metabolized, purine becomes uric acid. A heightened level of uric acid production is commonly found in those with gout. Another factor that may play a role in developing gout is a lack of proper excretion of uric acid. Crystallization of the uric acid accounts for the swelling and intense pain experienced by those with the disease.
Foods that are high in purine should be avoided: meat, beans, sardines, anchovies, scallops, alcohol, and diet soda all have high levels of purine and should be avoided if you wish to decrease your risk of developing gout
Exercise Can Actually Help
If you’ve been diagnosed with some form of arthritis, chances are you’ve heard this advice before: exercise can be very beneficial to your joint and muscle health. Studies have shown that exercise can help reduce many of the often painful symptoms that are associated with the disease. Improved joint mobility, increased muscle strength, and overall better health are just some of the benefits of exercise.
Before you start any exercise regime, make sure to visit with your doctor. Over exercising can actually aggravate your arthritis pain.
In general, it’s recommended that arthritis sufferers focus on low impact exercises that tone the body, retain and increase flexibility, and improve posture. These exercises fall into three main categories: mobility exercises, aerobic exercises, and strength exercises.
Mobility exercises are those that seek to improve the patient’s ability to stay flexible and retain or improve their range of motion. Aerobic exercises are those that improve overall cardiovascular fitness. Strength exercises include weight-bearing exercises that help build muscle strength and improve joint flexibility and stability.
Remember that your exercise routine should be gentle enough so that it does not aggravate your arthritic symptoms. Even though some regular physical activity is key for arthritis patients, it is also important to integrate periods of rest into your schedule. Never exercise if one or more of your joints feels hot or pained. Any feelings of warmth or hotness means that your joints are inflamed and you should never exercise on inflamed joints or muscles.
What can you expect from your exercise routine?
After roughly six weeks of regular exercise you can expect to notice that your balance has improved. Your posture will also be improved, especially if you have integrated mobility exercises into your exercise routine. And you should experience a reduction in your pain level if your arthritis is on the mild end of the scale.
A recent federal study found that acupuncture can provide substantial relief for some arthritis sufferers. As part of a whole treatment approach, acupuncture has been proven to help elderly patients lead fuller and healthier lives, despite the debilitating effects of arthritis. The study was directed by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
In the study, 570 elderly arthritis patients were treated with acupuncture for six months. At the end, they reported experiencing less pain and greater flexibility and mobility in the affected joints.
Acupuncture is now being touted as a safe and effective treatment for arthritis.
Specifically, this latest piece of research has demonstrated that acupuncture can help treat pain in the knees, which is often associated with osteoarthritis.
Acupuncture is a traditional form of Chinese medicine in which very thin metal needles are inserted into specific areas of the body. The needles are then moved and manipulated by the therapist, and in some instances they’re stimulated using electricity.
So how does all this help reduce the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis? It’s unclear exactly how acupuncture works. Some scientists and researchers believe that acupuncture helps the body release the chemicals that cause pain and discomfort.
Therapists recommend applying heat to the affected area instead of the traditional ice packs. Superficial heat relieves arthritis pain by increasing circulation in the area. However, it only works for localized pains because the heat penetrates only a few millimeters below the skin. Common heat treatments include paraffin, hot packs, and hydrotherapy.
Epson Salt Bath
Baths are another natural way to treat the pain and discomfort often associated with arthritis. When using baths to seek relief, warm baths are advised. In fact, cold bathes can result in increased pain, which is not the goal. In addition to a traditional warm bath, many of those suffering from arthritis recommend adding about three or four tablespoons of Epson salt to the bathwater. Those diagnosed with arthritis should remain in a warm bath for at least thirty minutes.
Epsom Salt (magnesium sulfate): Magnesium has both anti-inflammatory and anti- arthritic properties and it can be absorbed through the skin. Magnesium is one of the most important of the essential minerals in the body, and it is commonly deficient in the American diet. The heat of the bath can increase circulation and reduce the swelling of arthritis.
Dosage and Directions: Fill a bathtub with water as hot as you can stand. Add 2 cups of Epsom salts. Bathe for thirty minutes, adding hot water as necessary to keep the temperature warm. Do this daily, as often as you’d like.
Massage therapy is considered a complementary treatment for arthritis pain.
While it cannot cure your arthritis, massage therapy can provide some relief of your pain. You can experience increased flexibility and mobility, a reduction in pain and inflammation, fewer muscle aches and less stiffness, and an overall sense of comfort.
It’s wise to work with a therapist who has experience with arthritis patients.
The process is designed to strengthen and invigorate the muscles surrounding the joint. This is done with gentle stretching, vibration, and friction. Your therapist should not work directly on an inflamed joint, however, since this can actually aggravate your pain.
Some arthritis sufferers find that regular massage, which may mean weekly for some or monthly for other, offers them better relief than their medication. Of course, you should always consult with your doctor when you’re pursuing complementary therapies for your arthritis.
Hot And Cold Patches
You can also find temporary relief for arthritis using hot and cold patches.
These can be found in nearly any drug store and many department stores as well. Simply apply the patch directly to the joint when you’ve noticed some inflammation and swelling. Icy Hot would be an example.
There are a number of topical arthritis creams that can be applied directly to the skin. Most of these can be purchased over-the-counter. These are designed to help with minor arthritis and muscle pain. You’ll find that some contain the active ingredient salicylate, while others are based on the painrelieving effect of capsaicin or menthol. Bengay Arthritis Cream would be an example.
It’s referred to as static magnet therapy, and it’s rather controversial as far as relieving arthritis pain – or any other kind of pain for that matter. However, it’s also considered harmless, so for some, it’s definitely worth trying.
It’s believed that the magnet reduces pain by increasing circulation.
There haven’t been any studies, and at this point in time, there’s no evidence that magnets actually increase circulation. Once again, though, static magnet therapy is harmless.
The reason so many people seek out alternatives to traditional arthritis pain medications is twofold. First, there is the expense involved with prescription medicine. Second, many of these medications come with side effects.
There are alternative supplements you can take. Generally, however, these will be helpful primary for milder forms of arthritic pain. And as with any alternative therapy, you should first consult with your doctor to make sure it’s appropriate for your specific condition and doesn’t interfere with any other medications you may be taking.
Here’s a quick overview of supplements you might want to consider for your arthritis pain. We’ll go into most of these in detail in this section.
- Vitamin E – This antioxidant is used primarily for osteoarthritis.
- Vitamin B – Said to be an effective pain reliever. It works best on the knee and can help stop degeneration that is caused by free-radical molecules, not only in the joints but in other areas of the body as well
- Ginger – Ginger is an antioxidant that acts as an inflammatory with no major side effects.
- Glucosamine sulfate – This builds cartilage with very few side effects.
- Chondroitin – Helps draw fluid into cartilage, improving shock-absorbing ability.
- MSM – This organic sulfur is used in the reduction of inflammation.
- Fish Oil – Touted as an anti-inflammatory.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Suppresses inflammation.
- Cherries – Contain a natural pigment called anthocyanin, which is known to have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Vitamin E is thought to act as an antioxidant and help clean up free radicals, as well as aid in the formation of red blood cells. It has long been considered to be helpful in reducing inflammation, especially for osteoarthritis. However, a recent study of 136 people with osteoarthritis found that Vitamin E did not demonstrate any positive effects on the condition or the pain. This is a very small study, it still remains to be seen if Vitamin E can be helpful or not. If you decide to add it to your diet, the recommended daily average is 15 mg for adults.
Although Vitamin B is not considered to be an effective arthritis treatment, it has gained a following because there are connections between B and arthritis.
For example, those people with rheumatoid arthritis will often have low levels of Vitamin B in their blood.
At this point in time, however, there is no significant evidence that taking additional Vitamin B supplements will reduce your arthritis pain or influence your odds of getting arthritis in the future. We simply don’t understand enough yet about the effects of Vitamin B on this condition.
It shouldn’t hurt, however, to take a daily multivitamin that includes B vitamins to make sure that your body it getting what it needs.
Resent research suggests ginger root can inhibit inflammation and pain. In an uncontrolled 1992 Danish study, 56 arthritis patients took powdered ginger.
Three-fourths reported varying degrees of pain relief and no side effects, even among those who took the ginger for more than two years. Another recent study, this is 2001, looked at 250 patients suffering with moderate to severe pain. Of those that were given 225 mg of ginger twice a day as a dietary supplement, over two-thirds reported reduced pain.
So ginger appears to be a much better bet at easing arthritis pain than do Vitamin E and Vitamin B. 225 mg of ginger twice daily has been demonstrated to be beneficial when using ginger for arthritis pain. Or, if you don’t care for the idea of taking supplement pills, you can add ginger into your regular diet. Use it in your cooking. And if you can’t find fresh ginger, use dried ginger. Great with stews and soups.
Glucosamine And Chondroitin
Glucosamine and chondroitin are two dietary supplements that have become popular supplements for treating the symptoms of arthritis. Many faithful users have sung the praises of these two dietary supplements to the point that they’re often sold in combination.
Glucosamine (its full name is glucosamine sulfate) is a natural substance found in the joints. Beside your own joint fluid, glucosamine can also be found in certain sea creatures, including the shells of crabs, lobsters, and shrimps.
Scientists can also create glucosamine in the laboratory. Your body creates its own steady supply of glucosamine used to create and repair lost cartilage.
Like glucosamine, chondroitin (or chondroitin sulfate) can also be found in the fluid surrounding the joints. Chondroitin is believed to be helpful in drawing fluid into the cartilage, cushioning the joint against shocks and thereby relieving pain. It can also be found in cattle and sharks.
Recent research has found that both supplements contain anti-inflammatory properties, and provide anti-inflammatory protection in some animals.
While two small studies have implied that MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) may be helpful in relieving arthritis joint pain for those with osteoarthritis, much further study is needed. There currently is very little understanding about the long-term effects of MSM. It is, however, a supplement that is drawing interest, especially in treating arthritis. It’s just too early to be able to definitively pronounce it as effective for arthritis pain and harmless if taken over time.
One of the latest trends that nutritionists and others are buzzing about is fish oil. Fish oil is high in two types of omega-3 fatty acids. These include eicosapentaenoic acid (or EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (or DHA). Both of these omega-3 fatty acids have been well documented for their ability to reduce inflammation.
Currently, there is insufficient research to conclude whether fish oil is truly effective in relieving the symptoms associated with arthritis. However, early research is encouraging. Recent clinical trials and laboratory studies have concluded that fish oil, because of its omega-3 structure, may be helpful in reducing the feelings of stiff morning muscles and tender joints that so many arthritis sufferers experience. Researchers have not yet concluded the appropriate dosage for maximum effectiveness, nor how long treatment should last.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids switch off the enzymes that break down joint cartilage, and are found mainly in oily fish such as sardines, salmon and cod liver oil.
But you can also find them in plant seed oils such as evening primrose and sunflower oil, canola oil, soybean oil, walnut oil, avocado oil, and the base plants of these oils.
Cherries, bilberries and blueberries contain a natural pigment called anthocyanin, which is known to have an anti-inflammatory effect. Tart cherries boast a whopping 26.5 grams of anthocyanin – the highest level of all fruits. Extracts from these fruits are commonly used for arthritis relief, especially for acute gout attacks.
Studies at Michigan State University found that tart cherry compounds are at least 10 times more effective than aspirin in reducing inflammation without any side effects.
Drinking just one ounce, or two tablespoons, of tart concentrated cherry juice every day is suggested for relieving arthritis pain.
Please keep in mind that the FDA does not regulate dietary supplements. This is because plants, fats, proteins and animal organs and tissues as well as herbs, minerals and vitamins don’t require approval from FDA. However, it’s always advisable to consult a healthcare professional before starting any natural remedy that involves supplements for arthritis