Do you feel like the Tin Man without his oil can when you first get up in the morning or after you've been sitting for a while? Does it feel like your body has forgotten how to move and needs to relearn the motions? Do you struggle with everyday activities such as opening jars, turning taps on and off, gardening or bending down to pick something up? Do you ever feel a ‘crunching’ sensation in your knees or an inexplicable ache in your hip, shoulder or neck?
Major bummer alert
It’s possible you have early stage osteoarthritis. If you’ve already been diagnosed, you’ll understand the telltale signs only too well. Nearly four million Australians are affected by arthritis. There are over 100 different kinds but osteoarthritis is the most common, followed by rheumatoid arthritis. Women are three times more likely to be affected than men.* The perception is that it’s an old persons disease, but you can begin to experience symptoms in your 40s and early 50s, or even earlier in some cases. If you have a strong family history, you’re probably a shoe-in to get it too. Ta, Nana.
My achy breaky joints
In osteoarthritis, the cartilage, which protects joints and allows bones to glide freely, gradually wears away. Without this protection, bones can rub against each other causing joint inflammation, swelling and pain. In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue and erodes the lining of the joints.
What’s up, doc?
The causes aren’t fully understood, but certain factors make it more likely, including:
■ Family history.
■ Being overweight (this places stress on joints, knees in particular).
■ Previous joint injury or broken bones.
■ Repetitive overuse of a joint, for example, a job that requires lots of heavy lifting or kneeling, or a sport where there’s frequent impact on joints.
How do I know if I have it?
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and family history, and do a physical exam. He or she may suggest an X-ray, ultrasound, CT scan or MRI to help pinpoint problem areas, as well as rule out other potential reasons for pain.
A blood test can determine if you have markers for rheumatoid arthritis.
Can diet help?
Many people swear a diet rich in foods known for their anti-inflammatory properties helps reduce pain. Aim to include lots of dark, leafy greens, fatty fish, fresh fruits, whole grains, nuts and healthy fats like olive oil. Include spices such as turmeric, ginger, cayenne and cinnamon in your recipes and go crazy with garlic! Go easy on added sugar, processed meats, refined carbs and soft drinks.
Exercise/physical therapy. It might seem counterintuitive, especially when you’re hurting, but regular exercise is essential for helping strengthen muscles and bones; it also helps improve range of motion, flexibility and balance, which can in turn help prevent devastating falls. Gentle, non-weight bearing activities like aqua classes or yoga are good.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). This drug-free, non-invasive technique sends small electric pulses to nerve endings and can help with both chronic and acute pain management. Portable units can be purchased from pharmacies or online.
Complementary therapies. Acupuncture, massage and meditation may bring relief. Dietary supplements such as green-lipped mussel, fish oil, glucosamine sulphate, chondroitin, SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine) and devil’s claw may also be worth investigating but ask your doctor first.
Hot/cold therapy. Alternating heat and ice packs can provide relief for sensitive joints. Massaging an icy/hot gel or cream into sore spots also helps.
Drug therapy. Over the counter and prescription pain meds, such as paracetamol, codeine and tramadol, can help. Non-steroidal anti- inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as naproxen, ibuprofen and diclofenac are readily available. However, never self diagnose; always discuss options with your GP.
Surgery. If all else fails, your care team may recommend surgery such as joint repair or replacement. Recovery times and
success rates have greatly improved in recent years.