Arthritis is caused by the inflammation of one or more joints thereby causing stiffness, swelling, or pain. The swelling or tenderness in the joints causes pain and it is often found to worsen with age. Even though there are more than 100 different kinds of arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common. Underlying infections or diseases can also be a trigger for arthritis.
Osteoarthritis causes cartilage to break down mainly due to wear and tear or injury, whereas rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an auto-immune condition in which our immune system attacks our own joints. It begins with the damage to the lining of the joints. Even though rheumatoid arthritis is unavoidable to an extent due to underlying conditions, osteoarthritis is preventable with a healthy lifestyle, eating habits, and regular exercises. The inflammation and pain of joints due to RA can be reduced with proper weight management and other lifestyle management measures.
Apart from Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis, there are many other different types of arthritis viz – Ankylosing spondylitis, gout, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis, septic arthritis, thumb arthritis, etc
What are the causes of arthritis?
Arthritis causes and factors that contribute to this ailment are given below;
- Age – this condition is often found in the older generation as it advances with age. The occurrence of arthritis has been found to start as early as 20 years, progressing with age
- Gender – people who stand for long periods of time are at a higher risk. It is often seen that women who are on their feet doing household chores and works are prone to arthritis than men.
- Infection – inflammation of the joints caused due to any bacterial, viral, or fungal infection can cause arthritis.
- Injuries – Injuries to joints can cause the natural breakdown of connective tissues, which can result in developing arthritis.
- Obesity – is the main villain because being overweight puts extra stress on joints. Knee, spine and hip joints in obese individuals are at the risk of developing osteoarthritis.
- Family history – genetics play an important role. If any type of arthritis runs in your family, the chances of developing arthritis are greater for you.
What are the different types of arthritis?
There are many different types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are two of the most commonly referred arthritic conditions. They both are different since it affects the joints in different ways. Yet another variant of arthritis is Gout, which typically affects the small joints.
Wear and tear caused to the joint’s cartilage cause osteoarthritis. Cartilage is the hard and slick coating on the ends of bones that allows frictionless motion of joints. Cartilage damage can lead to two bones grinding against one another, causing pain and restricted movement. The damage can be a result of prolonged wear and tear. It can also be caused by an injury to the joint or infection.
Osteoarthritis usually affects the entire joint causing bone damage, deterioration of the muscle to bone connective tissues, joint inflammation, and pain.
Obesity is one of the leading causes of osteoarthritis – especially affecting the knee joints. With excess weight, the pressure between the knee joints increases, leading to the joints rubbing against each other, thereby damaging the connective tissues and cartilages. Excessive physical activity – especially running, extensive physical labour etc are other leading causes of osteoarthritis.
Osteoporosis or brittle bone, due to lack of vitamin d and calcium is yet another reason for wear and tear. Vitamin D is an important facilitator for the body to absorb calcium. With low Vit D levels, our body goes deficient in calcium, leading to calcium being taken away from bone for other needs. This leads to brittle bones, making them more susceptible to wear and tear and even breaking!
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
The human body consists of joint capsules which are tough membranes that enclose the joint parts. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the immune system of the body attacks the lining (synovial membrane) of the joint capsule causing inflammation and swelling which ultimately leads to the destruction of bone and cartilage within the joint.
Rheumatoid arthritis is more commonly seen in women than among men. Further, this condition affects joints at both sides of the body. For example, if it affects one hand, it will also affect the other hand! This is one of the easiest methods to differentiate between Rheumatoid arthritis and Osteoarthritis.
Gout is a condition in which the excessive uric acid in the blood gets crystalised and deposited at the small joints. As the uric acid crystal falls between the joints, it causes inflammation and excessive pain. (Learn to manage Gout)
Ankylosing spondylosis is yet another type of arthritis that causes some of the bones in the backbone to fuse. As the bones fused together the movement becomes severely restricted and the person hunches forward. This disease affects men mostly and occurs mostly during adulthood. There is no known cure for this condition however, with proper medical attention, this progression of this diseases can be slowed along with improving the quality of life.
What are the symptoms of arthritis?
Joint pain, joint swellings, stiffness of joints, tiredness, loss of appetite, fever are all major symptoms. If proper treatments or medications are not taken in time it may gradually progress to severe arthritis issues.
Decreased range of motion, chronic pains in joints, difficulty in walking and climbing stairs, knobby finger joints are all severe symptoms.
How to diagnose Rheumatoid arthritis? How is Osteoarthritis diagnosed differently from RA?
A doctor can diagnose arthritis by physical examination and checking the joints’ fluid and range of motion. X-ray, CT scan, or an MRI can also be done to check the bone and cartilage damage caused.
The inflammation levels in the blood and joint fluids can be checked by a series of tests such as
- Antinuclear antibody (ANA) test
- Rheumatoid factor (RF) test,
- Anti-Cyclic Citrullinated Peptide (anti-CCP) test.
Depending on the severity of the situation, doctors can prescribe medicines to treat the arthritis issue. The treatment modalities of arthritis can vary also based on the type of arthritis, how far has it progressed, other associated ailments or conditions etc. Here are some of the common treatment modalities prescribed by doctors –
- Analgesics like paracetamol, oxycodone, and hydrocodone may be prescribed for relieving the pain caused due to arthritis.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as Ibuprofen, naproxen gels, creams, or patches are also used to control inflammation.
- Immunosuppressants like cortisone or prednisone tablets or even injections injected directly into the joints help treat severe pain and inflammation caused by arthritis.
- Surgery is always the last resort for arthritis where joint replacement may be the only option left.
- Physical therapy is found to be effective in strengthening the muscles around the joints and thereby reducing the arthritis issue. Yoga, acupuncture, massages, Tai chi are also found to be effective in certain studies, even though there is no concrete proof as the results are mixed.
- Weight management and other lifestyle changes that include both exercises and dietary interventions also help tremendously towards relieving the pain and inflammation, thereby increasing the quality of life.
The above-mentioned medicines are to be administered only based on a doctor’s prescription. Self-medication and self-treatment without a doctor’s consultation can be extremely dangerous.
Diet Plan and Exercise for Arthritis
Like any other lifestyle diseases plaguing modern society, the root cause of arthritis is poor diet and lifestyle choices in most cases. Doctors usually suggest a healthy diet and weight reduction for arthritis patients. We must make sure that we take foods with low oxidative stress. It will help in reducing the stiffness in joints due to the anti-inflammatory chemicals released in the immune system.
Fried food, aerated drinks, junk food, salted and processed foods, red meat, alcohol consumption, smoking, etc, should be avoided for a healthy future.
Having a healthy eating habit and maintaining weight can be a great option in preventing arthritis. To lead a normal life, we must make sure that we eat a healthy diet with foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, sulphur-rich foods, antioxidants, and whole grains which aids in maintaining weight while increasing immunity and reducing inflammation.
Through a balanced diet and regular exercises, we can prevent arthritis from developing.
- Walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds are rich in omega 3 fatty acids. It will help in reducing the inflammation in the body.
- Broccoli, orange, pineapple, kale, strawberry, spinach, etc, are all excellent antioxidants that can contribute to reducing the inflammation and pain of arthritis. Antioxidants help in strengthening the immune system. Colourful vegetables and vitamin-rich fruits should be incorporated into our daily home diet.
- Whole grains are rich in fiber, and such foods help absorb unwanted fatty acids in the body which in turn helps in reducing body weight. Bajra, buckwheat, oats, etc, are all good options that will help in strengthening the bones by adding more iron and fiber.
- Arthritis can be managed by adding sulphur-rich vegetables to your diet. Cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc, should be a part of your meals.
- Whole beans also are a very good alternative since they are rich in fiber, protein, iron, zinc, magnesium, potassium, etc.
We must always make it a point to lead a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise. Exercise that involves strengthening the muscles around the affected joint is very important. With better muscles, the joints will not rub against each other reducing inflammation. For example, improving quadriceps muscles on the thighs help tremendously in reducing the pain and inflammation in case of osteoarthritis. Exercises are however tricky in case of arthritis; improper exercises can make things worse and can further exacerbate the pain.
Preventing arthritis is easier than managing it. Prevention is always better than cure. Having regular exercise, eating home-cooked healthy food, and maintaining weight can help us lead a normal life keeping the lifestyle diseases at a distance.
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