What exactly is Arthritis and what is Rheumatism?
Arthritis means inflammation of a joint. An inflamed joint is usually red, hot swollen, has limited movement and pain. The severity of the inflammation may vary from mild to very severe. Rheumatism is a general term which includes not only problems with the joints, but any problem affecting the muscles or the soft tissues of the body. Some of the problems associated with rheumatism include: fibrositis, bursitis, tendonitis, muscle strain, sprains, and lumbago, sciatica, whiplash injury, and disc conditions. Some types of arthritis and rheumatism can be prevented and effective treatment is available.
Osteoarthritis affects 80% of people over the age of 50!
There are over 100 different forms of arthritis. The pain and disability caused by these costs our country millions of dollars each year. So we should all know more about it. In fact it is a little known fact that rheumatic disease is the greatest cause of disability in Australia today and affects over two million people. As the body grows older, it loses its ability to support healthy cellular growth. The result can be osteoarthritis. Under the age of 45 years old, it is much more common in men. While after the age of 45 it is more common in women. The weight bearing joints and the joints of the hands are the areas most often affected. Specifically extensive cartilage destruction is followed by cartilage hardening and the formation of large bone spurs in the joint margins. Cartilage serves an important role in joint function and maintenance. Its gel like nature provides protection to the ends of joints by acting as a shock absorber. As cartilage hardens and loses its ability to hold water it also loses its ability to act as a shock absorber. Damage to the cartilage results in an uneven surface where joints meet. If the degeneration is severe enough, it can result in bone rubbing against bone. Degeneration of cartilage is the hallmark of osteoarthritis. With degeneration comes inflammation followed by pain, deformity and a diminished range of movement.
Signs and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
The onset of arthritis can be very subtle. Morning joint stiffness is often the first symptom. As the disease progresses there is pain on movement of the affected joint. The pain is usually worse after prolonged activity and relieved by rest. There is usually no sign of inflammation. The specific clinical picture varies with the particular joint involved. Disease of the hand leads to inflammation and pain on use. The knee produces pain, swelling and instability. Osteoarthritis of the hips causes local pain and a limp. Spinal osteoarthritis is very common and may result in compression of nerves and blood vessels. This classic presentation of osteoarthritis is easy to distinguish from other types of arthritis especially Rheumatoid arthritis which is commonly associated with significant inflammation of surrounding soft tissues.
The Natural Cause of Osteoarthritis
Little is known of the natural course of this disease if no treatment is given. However, data collected from the earliest signs of osteoarthritis to the most advanced stages suggest that cellular and tissue response is purposeful and is aimed at the repair of the damaged joint structure. In other words “the body is trying to heal itself”.
Therefore the major goal of therapy should be to enhance the repair process within the joint thus giving it the best chance possible to heal itself. Unfortunately accepted long term medical treatment does achieve this goal and may actually inhibit joint repair.
Current Medical Treatment of Osteoarthritis
The first drug generally used in the treatment of osteo and rheumatoid arthritis is Aspirin which is a Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID). It is often quite effective in relieving both pain and inflammation. However, since the therapeutic dose is relatively high toxicity often occurs. Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and gastric irritation are early signs of Aspirin toxicity. Other NSAID are often recommended but they carry significant risk for side effects and are best recommended for short periods of time.
More Harm than Good
Since osteoarthritis is caused by degeneration of cartilage NSAID may worsen the condition by inhibiting the cartilage formation and hence accelerating its destruction. The higher the dosage and the longer the use, the greater the joint destruction. As Hippocrates once said “above all DO NO HARM”.
The Natural Approach to Healthy Regeneration
This approach addresses the factors responsible for joint degeneration. Therefore, it is obvious that nutrition plays a major role in the prevention and treatment of osteoarthritis. Nutrition accomplishes the major goal of therapy: the enhancement of the repair process within the joint by providing building blocks for cartilage regeneration.
How You Can Lead a Healthier Lifestyle
Making better lifestyle choices may slow down or even stop the progress of most diseases and especially osteoarthritis.
Eat Well to BE Well
The optimum diet for the arthritis sufferer should be largely vegetarian with about 80% content of alkaline foods such as raw fruits and vegetables. Aim for a diet that will provide you with all the nutrients required for repair and regeneration. A high alkaline diet with its emphasis on raw foods is very easy on the digestive organs, helps to cleanse the system and avoid constipation, and will also help to dissolve the accumulation of acid forming toxic deposits around the joints. This is the major cause of arthritis.
Exercise- Health in Motion
Exercise is essential for the sustained mobility of the joints and for keeping the supporting muscles well toned. Rest is indicated in the acute stages of inflammation and passive movement by a qualified therapist to stretch and mobilise the joints may reduce the symptoms.
Exercise that incorporates gentle movement, proper breathing, body awareness and relaxation are best suited for arthritis sufferers. These include Tai Chi, Yoga, Chi Gong, swimming/aquarobics (heated pool) and walking.
Normalisation of posture and Chiropractic correction of structural faults and joint Subluxations (fixations) should be utilised to limit joint strain. Chronic pain responds well to infra red heat, ultra sound therapy, gentle massage and mobilisation. A warm Epsom salts bath with essential oils is also recommended as these increase circulation and allow more oxygen and nutrients into the joints.
Certain foods have been known to trigger arthritic attacks and removing them from your diet may be required for total remission of pain. These foods are usually amongst your favorites and a high craving towards them may suggest that you are allergic to them.
The Nightshade Family- these are eggplants, tomatoes, chillies, capsicums, tobacco and white potatoes.
Citrus Fruits- especially oranges. The acidic by products may accumulate in the joints and aggravate them. The same applies to plums and vinegar.
Grains- the offending grains are commonly wheat, oats, barley and rye due to the presence of gluten.
Dairy Foods- lactose in dairy products is a very common allergen and may lead to the exacerbation of arthritis.
All Processed Foods- if it’s white then it’s processed. Examples are sugar, flour and rice. These foods are not only calorie rich and nutrient deficient, but they may also leech essential nutrient from your body in an attempt to balance your alkalinity.
Avoid or Reduce the consumption of caffeine, alcohol, soft (fizzy) drinks, nicotine and red meat. Avoid over eating or eating while stressed, tired or angry.
Always chew your food well and relax after each meal for a few minutes.
Tips to Ease Your Aches
Epsom Salts Bath- rich in Magnesium, an Epsom salts bath acts as a muscle and nerve relaxant. Dissolve 200-300 grams in warm water, add 10 drops of Lavender or Rosemary oil and soak in it for 35-40 minutes.
Raw Juices- best squeezed freshly and taken between meals. Try a combination of the following: Apples, melons, carrots, celery, ginger, beetroot, spinach, parsley and watercress. You can also add a tea spoon of super green foods such as spirulina or barley grass in a powdered form.
Reduce Stress- this can also create an acidic environment within the body which is one of the main triggers for arthritis. Pace yourself by planning your day, take time out to relax, breathe deeply and do some gentle exercise daily.
Hot Verses Cold packs- when the inflammation is acute the joints are red, hot swollen, painful, and have limited movement. That’s when ice is indicated. Apply an ice pack 10 minutes on then 10 minutes off as often as required. When on the other hand the inflammation is chronic and the pain has a dull quality then 35-40 minutes of heat is better suited. Heat relaxes the muscles and increases circulation.
Positive Mental Attitude- your mental attitude determines your health altitude! Take a light hearted approach to life and remember that “life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be explored and enjoyed”.
Sleep Well to Feel Well- sleep relaxes and recharges your body. Avoid late nights and interrupted sleep patterns. This is the time when most healing takes place.
Dry Skin Brushing- done with a pure bristle brush before showering eliminates toxins from your largest organ of elimination- your skin.
Belly Laughs- make sure you have at least one good belly laugh each day. By laughing your way to good health your body releases the pain killing nature hormone known as Endorphine.
The Healing Crises- when following a natural system of healing you may experience some initial discomfort as your body starts eliminating toxins. Discharge, foul odours, aches and pains, nausea and cravings, headaches, tiredness and fogginess are some of the symptoms. These are actually signs that you are in a “healing crisis”. This is a short but uncomfortable phase and best if you rest, drink plenty of purified water and persist with the detoxification. If in doubt seek some professional advice.
Supplements- once you’ve made the required adjustments to your diet and lifestyle you can try some of the available supplements that are available. With the help of your doctor or naturopath find out what you can take and the therapeutic dose required to get good results. Some of these supplements include herbs, vitamins, minerals, essential oils (fish or krill oil), digestive enzymes, glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate.
A Final Word-The importance of living a balanced and emotionally content life is essential to your health. Your body thrives on a variety of physical, mental and chemical stimulation and it is critical that you choose the best environment that supports and honours your healing journey.