Osteoarthritis – the most common cause of arthritis – causes joint stiffness, pain and loss of mobility, but it affects different people in different ways. Wear and tear or inflammatory processes lead to thinning of the cartilage in the joints, resulting in pain and inflammation. Typically this leads to reduced use of the joint, which causes muscle weakness. Osteoarthritis may affect the hands, feet, spine (causing low back pain or neck pain), and the weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees.
Fortunately the outlook is good for many sufferers, and there is a growing body of evidence for osteopathic care in the treatment of arthritic pain. Gentle mobilisation techniques carried out by osteopaths help many arthritis patients, helping stiff joints to move more freely and strengthening surrounding muscles, easing some of the discomfort. Often an osteopath will work on mobility of your other joints and muscles to improve your biomechanics more generally. Sometimes X-rays, MRI scans or other tests may be required and your osteopath will refer you if necessary to your GP for any additional investigations and treatment.
Exercise is great
We also know from numerous long term studies that keeping active is an excellent way to keep joints moving well at all stages of arthritis. Whether walking, yoga, swimming, pilates or something else, exercise reduces fatigue and tiredness and improves mood. Scientific evidence shows strong links between better mood and reduced pain, and we see this again and again in clinical practice. Once someone is in the habit of regular exercise, even if it is gentle, they never look back. I believe that the best way of achieving a good level of regular exercise is to find something people enjoy doing, and at The Practice we enjoy working with our patients to help them do exactly that.
We also understand that exercise is sometimes the last thing you feel like doing when you have arthritis, but experts now agree that lack of movement actually aggravates symptoms, while getting moving regularly relieves pain and stiffness. There are other benefits too: exercise improves bone health and strengthens muscles, and this improves the function of your joints. But don’t overdo it; if you feel like you need to take a break, then take one. It’s better to build up your exercise levels slowly.
Top tips for arthritis
Patients with arthritis who come to us are offered exercise advice that is tailored for them, but there are lots of useful, simple tips that are appropriate for everyone. For example:
- Apply warm and cool compresses to painful joints. This form of hydrotherapy has been used for centuries to relieve the pain of arthritis. (Never use ice or anything too hot directly on the skin.)
- Mindfulness and meditation also help because stress aggravates arthritis, so reducing stress relieves it. When you are stressed your body releases chemicals which increase inflammation, so keeping stress levels as low as possible is one way to reduce the occurrence and extent of flare-ups.
- Don’t grip handles and jars too tightly – use aids where possible such as electric tin openers and jar openers.
- Increase the amount of omega 3 oils, typically found in some fish but also available in supplement form, but do make sure to check with your doctor or health professional before taking these.
- Add turmeric to dishes you cook – turmeric contains curcumin which has been demonstrated to have an anti-inflammatory effect. A pinch of black pepper increases turmeric’s effectiveness.
Much of our work in clinic is to find creative ways to help the people we see to do the things they want to do, which is crucial to maintaining and improving quality of life. Feel free to come and talk to us about how we can help you.