Arthritis is inflammation of one or more of your joints. Joints are the point where two bones are connected and cushioned by cartilage, a firm rubbery connective tissue made by the body which functions to absorb shock.
The most well known types of arthritis are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and gout, which account for 95% of cases of arthritis in Australia.1 In osteoarthritis, cartilage breaks down and the body is unable to repair itself. This allows bone ends to touch causing pain, friction and inflammation.1 Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune inflammatory condition. The whole body is affected but particularly the joints which become painful and swollen.2 Gout is a type of arthritis where there is an increased concentration of uric acids in the body, which results in pain and inflammation in the joints.3
There are numerous factors that may contribute to the onset of arthritis, some of which are modifiable and some that are not. Potential causes of arthritis include:
- Constant stress and repetitive movement on specific joints, such as knee joints from running or constant bending.
- Family history – you may be more likely to develop arthritis if it runs in the family.4
- Age – long term strain on joints may wear out cartilage.4
- Lifestyle and nutritional factors – certain types of arthritis such as gout may be impacted by excess alcohol and purines in the diet, which cause an increase in uric acid. Purines are found in meats such as liver and kidney and some seafood such as anchovies or scallops.5
- Previous injury – if you have injured a joint you are more likely to develop arthritis in that joint.4
- Excess weight – this puts more burden on joints, placing you at higher risk for developing arthritis.4
Symptoms of mild arthritis can be felt throughout the joints in the body with the knee, hip, finger and back joints most commonly affected. Such symptoms are:
- Joint pain
- Joint stiffness
- Joint changes – swollen and enlarged joints
- Joint instability
- Reduced flexibility in joints
- Joint weakness1
Preventing the onset of arthritis is the best way to ensure you have healthy joints later in life. Some tips for how you can prevent developing arthritis include:
- Keep muscles strong – this can take the strain off joints. Consider strength training and pilates.
- Keep moving – regular physical activity helps to maintain joint function. It may improve joint flexibility and mobility and decrease pain.
- Watch your weight – excess weight can put needless tension on joints, particularly knees, hips and spine.
- Avoid repetition – constant stress on specific joints may lead to a higher likelihood of arthritis. You may need to adjust your exercise or work if it is putting continued strain on certain joints.
- Eat a healthy balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetable and whole foods. Choosing the right fats is also very important. Healthier options are monounsaturated fats (found in nuts, seeds, avocado and olives) and omega-3 fats. These are found in high amounts in fish oils, walnuts and linseeds. Avoid saturated fats, which are known to increase unhealthy LDL cholesterol. This type of cholesterol has been linked with increased damage to cartilage in people with osteoarthritis.6 This may also explain why reducing animal fats may be helpful for some people with arthritis. Those with gout you may like to reduce alcohol intake and foods containing high levels of purines.
As with prevention of mild arthritis, management of the symptoms may benefit from lifestyle modifications such as a healthy diet, weight management, gentle exercise and avoiding repetitive movements. Other factors to consider include:
- Glucosamine – this occurs naturally in the body and supplementation may provide temporary relief from joint tenderness, pain and inflammation associated with mild osteoarthritis. It may also provide improved functional ability for people suffering from knee pain.
- Chondroitin sulfate – this is a naturally occurring important building block of cartilage. Adequate amounts are required for the growth and maintenance of healthy cartilage and to help decrease the cartilage loss that is often associated with mild osteoarthritis. Supplementation may temporarily relieve the pain of mild osteoarthritis and reduce swelling as well as improve joint function by increasing mobility and flexibility.
- MSM – Methyl sulfonyl methane is a rich source of organic sulfur and may help to improve joint function. Sulfur is a mineral which is required by every cell in the body, including cartilage, which is rich in sulfur containing compounds. It may assist with the pain associated with mild osteoarthritis.
- Celery – this natural remedy has been used for many years. It may temporarily reduce the pain and inflammation of mild arthritis, rheumatism and gout. If you are not a big fan of celery it is available in a supplement.
- Fish oil- has many health benefits mainly due to the healthy fats it contains known as omega-3 essential fatty acids. These may be helpful in decreasing the duration of morning stiffness and tenderness associated with mild arthritis. It may also temporarily reduce the inflammation associated with mild arthritis.
- Krill oil – this marine crustacean may help to temporarily reduce joint pain and inflammation associated with mild osteoarthritis.
- Green lipped mussel – may help to reduce joint stiffness and temporarily relieve joint pain associated with mild osteoarthritis. This is available in supplement form.
- Topical creams containing capsaicin may also assist in temporarily relieving joint pain from mild osteoarthritis. Capsaicin is a substance found in chili and when applied to the skin may reduce transmission of pain impulses to the central nervous system after repeated use.2
- Relaxation techniques may help take your mind off the pain of mild arthritis. Consider breathing techniques, meditation, visualisation or yoga.2
- Heat and cold – Heat packs and warm baths can stimulate circulation and help relax muscles. Cold packs can help to numb a painful area and reduce swelling and heat.3
Frequently asked questions
How long do I take Glucosamine for before it works?
Glucosamine may require up to 4 weeks of continual treatment before temporary pain relief is experienced.
I’m sore and stiff in the morning? Surely I can’t have arthritis?
The onset of arthritis can often be very subtle and morning stiffness can often be the first symptom.2