What is Arthritis? Symptoms, Causes and Joints Pain Treatment

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London: According to Dr Irfan Masud, a senior consultant and orthopaedic surgeon at Maroof International Hospital Islamabad, “Almost every person suffers from one form of arthritis or another, during their lives.” In the United States, arthritic conditions limit the lives of more than seven million patients, second to heart disease as a cause of occupational disability.

Dr. Masud reports that in Pakistan alone, close to 14 million people have been diagnosed with what is considered to be one of the most disabling conditions known to mankind.

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Arthritis Pain

What is arthritis?

Few of us understand arthritis and the muscular degeneration it entails, let alone know how to prevent it. The word arthritis — derived from the Greek words ‘Artho’ and ‘Itis’ which mean joints and inflammation respectively — is an umbrella term for nearly a 100 medical conditions which affect the human muscular and skeletal system adversely. Therefore, in a nutshell, arthritis can be defined as inflammation of joints which results in pain, weakness, instability and bone deformities which interfere with our daily lives.

Joint tissues cover the ends of bones and allow them to move against one another. When the tissues are inflamed or damaged, movement becomes problematic and painful. “Constant joint pain is the main complaint of patients suffering from arthritis,” says Dr Masud. “It is often constant and arises due to inflammation of or damage around the joints as well as daily wear and tear. Muscle strain caused by forceful movements against stiff joints can also cause arthritic pain.”

Symptoms of arthritis

The National Rheumatology Society of Pakistan has issued a list of symptoms common to undiagnosed arthritis patients. These include:

• Morning stiffness

• Malaise and tiredness

• Weight loss

• Poor sleeping patterns

• Muscle and joint aches

• Tenderness

• Muscle weakness

• Loss of flexibility

• Decreased aerobic fitness

• Inability to move hands or walk properly

• Difficulty in moving joints

Treatment options for arthritis patients

Since arthritis is a chronic condition, there is no absolute cure except prevention and care. Logically speaking, the only treatment is anything that can prevent the joints from swelling or promotes muscle movement. Physical therapy, for example, has been proven to improve bone function, decrease pain and delay the need for surgical intervention significantly.

Regular exercises prescribed by doctors are particularly effective in counteracting osteoarthritis of the knees — even more so than medication. According to Dr Khan’s report, maintaining a normal weight can also reduce joint stress and delay the onset of osteoarthritis.

Laser therapy is another option arthritis patients can consider. Studies have proved it to be effective, resulting in zero joint pain and improved mobility. Orthopaedic bracing can also provide support to aching joints.

According to research conducted by Dr Muhammad Ashraf Chaudhary, professor and head of the community medicine department at CMH Lahore Medical College, anti-inflammatory foods and a healthy lifestyle can be very beneficial for arthritic conditions.

The type of treatment given is respective to each patient, depending on the type and scale of arthritis they suffer from. Shamsi may have had little luck with medical intervention but Sipra is good as new, post hip surgery. “I no longer need any medication and can do my work on my own,” he says. Speaking about Sipra’s experience, Dr Masud explains that, “In the case of joint-eroding arthritis, joint-replacement surgeries like hip resurfacing and total hip and knee replacement are performed. This is done once all other options have failed.”

Preventing arthritis

Of course, prevention is always better than cure. While it is impossible to escape the effects of age, one can delay the onset of arthritis by undertaking some easy measures prescribed by doctors. One of the main ways is by exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight. Exercising not only keeps the muscles strong and active, but it also boosts metabolism and relieves pain.

It is also advisable to protect one’s joints during exercise as accidents, injuries or overuse may increase the risk of arthritis, especially after the age of 40. A variety of ankle, knee and other types of braces are available in the markets — these provide support to the bones and guard them. Foods rich in elements that strengthen bone marrow, such as calcium and iron, are essential for healthy bones and muscular function.

One must also seek medical help immediately if any arthritis symptoms occur as the longer they wait, the worse the situation can get. Therefore, early diagnosis and timely treatment is key to coping with arthritis and its impending effects.

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