Arthritis affects millions of Americans
SPRINGFIELD – Arthritis is more than the common aches and pains of getting older.
For the roughly 50 million Americans diagnosed with arthritis – two-thirds of them are under age 65 – the musculoskeletal disease painfully affects the body’s joints. The leading cause of disability in the United States, arthritis stems from a number of risk factors, including a family history of arthritis, increased age, joint injury or overuse, and excess weight. Instead of being one catchall joint pain and stiffness condition, there are more than 100 types of arthritis, including gout, lupus and psoriatic arthritis. Some types of arthritis even can affect internal organs and skin.
The two major types of arthritis are osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, and the inflammatory rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a progressive wear-and-tear condition that breaks down joint cartilage and is the most common type of arthritis, affecting about 33 million Americans. Osteoarthritis typically affects weight-bearing joints such as the spine, hips, knees and feet. Osteoarthritis in the hands is normally inherited and shows initial onset most often in middle-aged women. As a joint’s cartilage wears down, the bones lose their cushioning and the joint becomes painful to move. With this deteriorating type of arthritis, bumps and spurs may develop on the ends of the bones and cause a knobby appearance at the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that inflames joints on both sides of the body, such as both hands, both wrists or both knees. Joints and joint-lining tissue, called synovium, become irritated, resulting in the potential deterioration of the joint’s cartilage. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include joint pain, swelling, warmth, redness and stiffness. Other symptoms may include fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, fever and rash.
“Growing research shows that resistance and endurance exercise provides pain-reducing benefits for people living with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis,” said Nicholas Colgin of Right at Home of Western Massachusetts. “That’s one of the reasons Right at Home offers assistance with a light exercise program. Sometimes those dealing with joint restrictions also may need assistance with bathing and dressing, which we also can provide. Arthritis, at any age, becomes more manageable with team effort and encouragement.”
Because of the varying types of arthritis, it is important to get a proper medical diagnosis for specific treatment options. Pain management is continuing to improve through newer medications, surgeries and greater disease awareness. For those living with arthritis, the following lifestyle remedies can help:
• Keep a healthy body weight. Every pound of weight results in four pounds of pressure on the knees. Taking extra weight off relieves joint pain and can limit future joint injury. Some seniors may need help with healthy meal planning and preparation.
• Develop a regular exercise routine. Swimming and water aerobics are two of the safest exercises for weight-bearing joints.
• Consult with a rheumatologist for an individualized treatment plan. More than 100 medications are now available to treat all forms of arthritis.
• Explore non-medicinal pain remedies. Consider pain-relief therapies such as herbal supplements, massage, acupuncture and relaxation techniques.
Arthritis typically worsens with age, but with adjustments in lifestyle and the ever-progressing treatments available, those with the joint disease can continue to experience a reduction in symptoms and an improved quality of life.
“Many seniors dealing with arthritis can improve their movement and decrease pain,” Colgin said. “It makes our day to help people keep moving and smiling in spite of an illness.”