Non-medical interventions for Arthritis
What is arthritis?
Arthritis (from Greek ‘arthro’ meaning joint) is a condition caused by acute or chronic inflammation or damage in joints. Generally arthritis causes pain and stiffness with varying degrees of swelling. There are many different types of arthritis including:
Axial spondyloarthritis or Ankylosing spondylitis - An inflammatory arthritis affecting the spine and pelvis, often starts in young adults
Gout - An acute, inflammatory condition usually affecting one joint at a time;
Osteoarthritis - Where the cartilage in joints gets damaged either by inflammation or mechanical wear;
Psoriatic arthritis - A chronic potentially joint damaging arthritis associated with psoriasis;
Pyrophosphate arthritis - Very common in the elderly and often causing widespread inflammatory joint and other symptoms;
Reactive arthritis - An inflammatory arthritis which occurs after certain infections;
Rheumatoid arthritis - A chronic, potentially joint damaging inflammatory arthritis affecting (usually) many joints at the same time;
Septic arthritis - Joint infection, which is relatively rare.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (‘lupus’) - A condition characterised by inflammation which can affect any part of the body. It typically occurs in young women and can vary in severity from mild to severe;
How common is Arthritis
Arthritis affects up to 16 million people in the UK and costs the NHS and social services (i.e UK taxpayer) about £5.7 billion a year. About 700,000 people in the UK have the most severe type of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Treatment for Arthritis
In addition to the medical treatment of arthritis, there are some things you can do in your daily life to help improve your symptoms and general health and wellbeing.
If you have been diagnosed with arthritis, you don’t just have to rely on medication to make you feel better. Lifestyle changes can help alleviate your symptoms and make you feel more positive. If there are lots of things you would like to improve, try making small, short term and realistic goals.
You will know about the risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke if you smoke cigarettes, but did you know that smoking is also bad for arthritis? If you smoke, speak to your G.P or rheumatologist about help in giving up.
Tip: Remember, arthritis is a chronic condition. Take each day as it comes with small regular changes and try not to over do it by doing too much at once.
Exercise does not have to mean going to the gym every day. You can exercise in the comfort of your own home or local neighborhood. Chair based exercises, gardening, a short walk in the local park are all examples of the types of activities you can try to incorporate into your daily life. Aim for about half an hour of activity a day, but if you can’t do this straight away, you can build up to this over time.
Regular exercise will help strengthen muscle and bones, lessen any stiffness, keep you mobile and maintain a healthy heart.
For people with chronic conditions that affect their joints, it can be painful to do some types of exercise. Your joints maybe swollen or stiff. You may have had joint replacements that limit your range of movement. It is important to find the right activity for you, without aggravating your condition. If you would like some guidance, speak to your GP about the types of exercise that you can try out.
Focus on the things you can do regularly and try not to compare yourself to anyone else. Try non load bearing exercises, something that won’t put unnecessary pressure on your joints. Swimming or gentle aqua aerobics in a warm pool are excellent examples of activities that don’t put a lot of pressure on your joints. Gentle cycling is another great way of keeping yourself active.
Tip: You may benefit from an ‘Exercise buddy’. A friend or family member to exercise with once a week. Look in your local area newsletter for local walking groups or classes you can join.
Eating healthily does not mean starving yourself, trying out the latest diet craze or relying on vitamin supplements. Regularly eating a balanced diet will help maintain a healthy weight to avoid any excess pressure on your joints.
What is a balanced diet?
A balanced diet is one which includes a variety of food types including a regular intake of: Fruit and vegetables, Oily fish for Omega- fatty acids, Protein, Fibre, Pulses , Calcium (in milk, yoghurt and cheeses) to help protect bones. A balanced diet also avoids Saturated fats , Processed sugars and added salt.
Healthy eating isn’t just about having the right ingredients, but about how you cook your food. Avoid deep frying or cooking your food for too long. This will rid your raw ingredients of any nutrients. Also be aware of how much sugar and salt you are adding to your food. Remember you will already have natural salts and sugars in the ingredients you are using.
Sometimes you may not feel well enough to prepare complicated meals from scratch, it helps to keep chopped vegetables or prepare simple meals you can then keep in the freezer for the days when you have swollen joints or you are too tired to cook.
Try to think ahead of what you would like to eat in the week so you can plan your shopping for ingredients and aren’t tempted to order last minute unhealthy takeaways or impulse buy. Try and find recipes with low preparation and cooking times. That way you won’t be put off cooking for yourself.
You can also ask to be assessed by a specialist occupational health therapist to see what changes or equipment (such as electric hand mixers and tin openers or jar openers) you might need in the kitchen. Speak to your rheumatologist or GP about referrals.
Tip: Try keeping a food diary for a couple of weeks to see what areas you can improve. A food diary will help you see the types of foods you are eating too much of, and food types you need to increase. Try putting it up somewhere you can see it, like the fridge. Remember, no one is judging you by what you eat. This is just your way of helping to manage your condition and your health.
Although there is no concrete evidence of the direct benefits of complementary therapies on arthritis, many people benefit from a sense of wellbeing and positivity.
Complementary therapies can include massage, reflexology, osteopathy, acupuncture, meditation, herbal medicine. If you are interested in using any of these therapies, make sure you find a reputable and licensed practitioner.
Please note, some herbs can react with arthritis drugs so always speak to your GP first if you are thinking of seeing a herbal practitioner.
Some types of massage can be quite intensive or use essential oils which can aggravate your condition, so always let the practitioner know about your condition, especially if you have joint replacements.
The General Regulatory Council for Complementary Therapies www.grcct.org
The Institute for Complementary and Natural Medicine www.icnm.org.uk
The Complementary Medical Association www.the-cma.org.uk
To conclude, if you are in any doubt speak with your Rheumatology team.