Pain, inflammation and swelling are complaints that most people have experienced at one time or another in their lives.
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.
More about arthritis
Joint pain can become an almost daily occurrence in more than 68% of people over the age of 65 years. Many people accept these symptoms as a part of the natural ageing process and suffer the symptoms in silence.
In South Africa, it is estimated that there could be six million people with arthritis. Since arthritis is so common, there are many myths about the condition; for example that arthritis is an inevitable part of the ageing process, that it results in little disability and that medical treatment is not particularly effective.
It is worthwhile, however, to speak to a doctor for advice if you or if a family member suffers from persistent or intermittent joint pain. This is because there are many different types of arthritis and new treatments are continually being made available as research provides more answers to these chronic and debilitating conditions.
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
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.
Range of motion exercises
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.
(Information from Arthritis Foundation)