What advice can you give to someone who has been suffering from joint pains, especially in the knees, for years now? What drugs should you take? What food should you avoid?
Osteoarthritis, the type of arthritis that you evidently have, is the most commonly occurring of the about 100 types of arthritis that afflict humans. The disease comes with age and it spares no one. By age 40, 90 percent of all individuals will have X-ray findings in their joints that are consistent with osteoarthritis although many will still be without symptoms. But by age 55, at least 80 percent of all people will occasionally or continually experience a symptom or two of the disease, which include morning stiffness, pain, tenderness and limitation of movement of the involved joints. The joints that are usually affected by osteoarthritis are those of the fingers and toes, between the thumb and the hands, between the big toes and the feet, the hips, the knees, the neck and the lower back.
Osteoarthritis is generally attributed to changes in the joints that occur because of wear and tear such as erosion of the cartilages that cover the surfaces of the articulating bones and degeneration of the articulating bones. The exact mechanisms that cause these changes are not yet known and this partly explains why there is no cure for the disease yet.
Although there’s no cure for arthritis, you will be able to control its symptoms by adopting certain lifestyle changes and when necessary, by taking certain drugs.
If you are overweight, slim down to your desirable body weight by eating a healthy, balanced diet that is low in fat and by exercising. Excess weight puts a stress on weight-bearing joints and increases wear and tear on the cartilages and bones in the joints.
Adopt an exercise program. An effective exercise program consists of three types of exercises: aerobic exercises to promote cardiovascular conditioning, strengthening exercises to build supporting muscles so they can absorb stress on joints and keep them stable, and stretching exercises to keep muscles and joints flexible.
Visit a Rehabilitation Medicine facility. They have numerous treatment modalities that can relieve the symptoms of mild to moderate arthritis. A physical therapist can also be very helpful in formulating an effective exercise program. She/he can likewise teach you ways to control pain without medication including the use of heat and cold packs, which can relieve the signs and symptoms of arthritis, albeit temporarily. An occupational therapist on the other hand, can teach you how to use self-help devices and reduce strain on joints.
Learn to manage stress. Listening to music and praying are effective ways of doing this. There are numerous other relaxation techniques which you can read about then try. Research has shown that people with arthritis benefit from stress management.
As for drugs, the anti-inflammatory drugs—mainly non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs) and steroids—can be very helpful if your joint symptoms are severe or persistent. These drugs are, however, have numerous adverse effects and must be used only with the supervision of a physician.
Agents that reportedly can regenerate cartilage such as chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine are likewise available in the market. Several clinical trials have shown that these substances when taken orally and regularly have significant symptom-modifying effect and good safety profile; and, they also retard the progression of the disease.
By the way, you need not avoid any food item. The only arthritis that can be triggered by food intake (i.e., food high in nucleic acids) is gout—a relatively rare type of arthritis that accounts for only about five percent of arthritis cases. Gout, which has a familial tendency and which affects mainly adult men, is a disorder that results when uric acid crystals (the end-product of nucleic acid metabolism) get deposited in and around joints.
By EDUARDO GONZALES, MD