Conquering joint pain

STAYING HEALTHY

Watch your weight: The ideal way to get rid of the excess kilos is to burn calories through exercise. Older women can try yoga. PIC GETTY IMAGES

In India more than 55 per cent of individuals above the age of 55 years suffer from knee arthritis. Many of these people eventually need a joint replacement surgery, the cost of which is about Rs. 2 lakh. The insurance penetration for the disease in India is a mere 7-10 per cent. Also keeping in mind the fact that 29 per cent of the Indian population is below the poverty line and cannot afford joint replacement surgery, we should understand the importance of timely awareness and precautionary measures.

What causes inflammation?

Arthritis means inflammation of a joint. There are over 100 types of arthritis, but the three most common types are Osteoarthritis, Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Pain from arthritis can be continuous or intermittent,and may occur after activity or exercise, but it may also happen even if you’ve been resting and still for a period of time.

Pain may be concentrated in one spot or you may feel it all over your body. Joints may feel stiff and daily activities such as climbing stairs or sitting down can become a challenge. The pain may be more severe during certain times of the day or after performing certain tasks. Arthritis may also cause fatigue.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis affecting middle-aged and older people. This is a non-inflammatory degenerative joint disease characterised by the breakdown of the joint’s cartilage. Commonly known as OA, osteoarthritis is rare before adulthood, but becomes increasingly common with advancing age.
The exact cause of osteoarthritis is unknown; however, more than 50 per cent of people over the age of 65 years suffer from it and more than 10 per cent have significant pain or disability associated with joint damage.

OA of the knee is unavoidable since it is related to ageing. Although the wear and tear of the muscles cannot be prevented, it can definitely be slowed down by taking precautionary measures and appropriate treatment and following a healthy diet. Regular exercises with a balanced diet can delay the onset of this condition. Recent advances in surgical techniques, anaesthesia and engineering have also successfully converted the surgery of joint replacement to a safe, painless and long lasting solution to this painful and debilitating condition. Genetics also plays an important role in knee arthritis.

Risks

Other than progressing age, important risk factors that can cause OA include obesity, joint injury and selected vocational and non-vocational activities.
The recent World Health Organisation review of the impact of diseases noted that musculoskeletal disorders are the fourth most common cause of loss of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) due to OA.

Prevention techniques

Educational and social support: Most of the treatment for OA is controlled by the patients themselves through self-management, which means that the information, education, and social support provided by professionals is extremely important. A number of studies have shown that patient education programmes offer benefits which are far more effective in managing the disease and preventing it. By ‘education’ we mean self-management that emphasises the central role of the patient in managing the disease; education that teaches the skills required to permit patients to manage their disease medically and emotionally and maintain their role in society.
Patient education combines the provision of knowledge with the development of skills in problem solving and with motivational activities to make patients capable enough to handle the impacts of OA.

Exercise: In OA, the value of exercise extends beyond the management of the disease itself  as exercise is the antidote to inactivity. Exercise is effective, economical, safe but under-prescribed in the management of patients who have OA. The more time older women spend exercising, the better their chances are of staying pain-free from one of the biggest chronic conditions plaguing developed countries. Even exercising as little as an hour and 15 minutes a week can make a difference over the next three years.

Walking, swimming, yoga, tai chi and even weight training are great ways for older women to exercise after getting their doctors’ approval. More women than men suffer from arthritis, and the risk increases greatly with age.

Yoga helps to keep the joints supple and flexible. By beginning a routine of yoga exercises now, you may be warding off many  pain-filled days in the future. The important rule is not to push yourself beyond what you can easily manage.

A key way to protect yourself from damaging cartilage and worsening your condition is to ensure no further damage of joints. You can visit a physiotherapist to learn about how to restore muscle strength, protect your joints and possibly delay surgery. You should be careful about how you conduct your tasks without further injuring your body. Try light activities such as swimming as opposed to more challenging and high impact exercises.

Sports injuries

You may be surprised to find runners have no additional risk of osteoarthritis. However, some sports that put you at higher risk include soccer, baseball and football. If you experience joint pain after exercising, you are doing too much and it may be counterproductive in terms of arthritis prevention.

When you learn to manage your weight or when you lose weight, you inevitably lessen joint damage. Losing extra fat may reduce the amount of stress on arthritic joints.

Some dietary and nutritional supplements have also shown to slow down the progression of arthritis and, in some cases, also help in prevention of the disease. A diet rich in anti-oxidants is most useful for patients suffering from arthritis. Carrots and green tea are rich in anti-oxidants. Omega 3 fatty acids have proved to be useful in delaying arthritis. Fish, particularly mackerel, is packed with Omega 3. Vegetarians can buy capsules of Omega 3 fatty acids and consume them. Some people stop eating sour food if diagnosed with arthritis, but this is a myth and has not been scientifically proved.

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