Getting to grips with arthritis

Arthritis is one of the most prevalent health conditions in the country with over 3 million Australians affected by around 120 different forms of this disease. Apart from the chronic pain and restriction of movement it inflicts on the sufferer, it also costs the country billions in medical care and lost productivity due to the incapacity it causes.

Those who suffer from one of the multitude of arthritic conditions will attest to the restrictions it can place on even the most basic of daily tasks, such as driving, cooking and walking.

The most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout, which together account for more than 95 per cent of cases in Australia. There is no cure at the moment, but there are many approaches that can be used to manage the symptoms and effects, involving a range of health professionals.

Drug treatment options
A range of drugs may be used to treat the pain and restriction of movement that arthritis causes. These range from analgesic pain relieving drugs to anti-inflammatories. The potential side effects of long term use make it essential to have your doctor closely monitor and manage any drug regime, but it is also important to educate yourself about the correct way to use them and the possible side effects.

It’s not just doctors involved in treatment
While your GP may be the central contact in the management of the condition, there are a range of other health professionals who may be involved in providing more holistic care. This can include dietitians, physiotherapists, pharmacists, occupational therapists, psychologists and podiatrists.

Can diet help?
There are certainly no magic bullets when it comes to arthritis, so you should be wary of any supplements or specific diets that promise dramatic results. Contrary to popular belief, there are no specific foods that directly cause arthritis (except perhaps for gout). As an example, some have suggested that foods such tomatoes and capsicums have an adverse effect on arthritis, but there is very little research evidence to back this up.
Omega-3 fats found in foods such as oily fish may have some anti-inflammatory properties that may help, but the general rule when it comes to diet is to keep it balanced and healthy to maintain general health and reduce weight. Excess weight can be a contributing factor to the onset of arthritis because of the stress it puts on joints and lower back, so losing weight may be a dietary priority.

Exercise can help too
The pain and restriction of movement that arthritis causes may lead the sufferer to believe that exercise may potentially worsen their condition. While exercise may involve some pain, research indicates that physical activity is not going to risk additional damage and can be an important part of managing your symptoms. Exercise can strengthen muscles, improved support of joints, reduced stress and assist better sleep, so its significance should not be neglected.

The level and type of exercise needs to be appropriate for your fitness level and mobility, so it is important to consult your doctor or physiotherapist about what is suitable for you.
Low impact exercise with less force going through the joints is general more comfortable, so activities such as Pilates, tai chi, yoga, cycling, walking and hydrotherapy may be the most appropriate.

Surgery is possible in some cases
If the pain and impact on performing daily activities becomes overwhelming and if drug and other treatments are not providing acceptable results, then surgery may be an option to repair or remove offending tissue or even to repair or realign bones. Any surgery carries inherent risks and needs to be considered carefully in consultation with your doctor and the specialist surgeon to determine whether there is good potential for improvement and to assess the other risks surrounding surgery in your particular situation.

Get informed
There are plenty of resources and advice available through Arthritis Australia, so visit their website for some helpful information and the latest news.

If you have any helpful tips to share please leave a comment below.