Pain, inflammation and swelling are complaints that most people have experienced at one time or another in their lives.
Some 6 million South Africans live with arthritis and more than 68% of people over the age of 65 live with daily joint pain. Many accept this as part of the natural ageing process - suffering in silence.
These symptoms may be short-lived, for example after a minor operation, following an injury or associated with the menstrual period in young women, or they may become long-term and persistent such as experienced by people with arthritis.
A doctor may prescribe painkillers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. It is very important to stick to the directions of use on the package inserts of any prescribed medication.
Also, it is important in some forms of arthritis to start treatment early, as this helps to slow the progression of the disease. So even if you think you just have a ‘bit of arthritis’ speak to your doctor as blood tests or X-rays may be needed to identify your type of arthritis.
Managing arthritis at home
1. Heat therapy
Applying heat to the affected joints may help to reduce pain and stiffness. Superficial heat applied by use of hot packs, infrared radiation or hydrotherapy may lessen pain and swelling and improve flexibility. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), usually done by a physiotherapist, is also useful for lessening pain and stiffness in arthritis.
Note: Cold therapy is only used in the 24 to 48 hours following an acute injury. Cold therapy may be applied to the skin through the use of ice packs, cold baths or vapour coolant sprays.
Disuse of the joint because of pain may lead to wasting of the muscles around the joint. Strengthening and maintaining these muscles is very important in the management of arthritis.
People with arthritis should speak to their doctor before starting out on an exercise programme. In many cases the doctor will recommend some basic exercises such as the range of motion exercises. People with moderate to severe arthritis and those starting out on an exercise programme should do isometric exercises as these exercises generate less mechanical stress on a joint. Isometric exercises tighten muscles but don’t work joints.
Usually, range of motion exercises can be done every day as follows:
- Exercise daily when stiffness and pain are the least.
- Take a warm shower or apply heat when pain is mild and long-standing.
- Perform gentle range-of-motion exercises in the evening to help reduce morning stiffness and in the morning to warm up.
- Modify exercises to avoid increasing joint pain. Ask a physiotherapist for guidance, if needed.
- Reduce the number of repetitions when the joint is actively inflamed.
3. Herbal remedies
For rheumatoid arthritis have one small cup of ginger, cat's claw and celery-seed herbal tea three times a day. Also add ginger and celery seeds to your meals (they go particularly well with curries and Thai foods).
Alternatively, you could add one teaspoon of powdered devil's claw root to a cup of water, and then simmer the mixture for 15 minutes.
Drink a cup of this tea three times a day, but avoid it if you have ulcers or if you're pregnant.
Some experts recommend taking B-complex vitamins, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), glucosamineand chondroitin.
The ancient practice of acupuncturecentres around the principle of the flow of chi or vital energy in the human body. The pain-relieving effects of acupuncture have been documented in literature and many arthritis sufferers claim they have found relief through it.
Sources: Arthritis Foundation of SA