The term rheumatism is an old-fashioned word used to describe problems that affect the joints and connective tissues. Arthritis means several diseases that affect the joints, such as osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), gout, and ankylosing spondylitis. People often say rheumatism when they’re talking about rheumatoid arthritis, or general aches and pains in their joints.
What causes arthritis?
Around 10 million people in the UK live with arthritis. There are more than 200 types, but the two most common are OA and RA. OA usually develops over time and can affect several different joints. RA is an inflammatory auto-immune disease, mainly affecting joints and tendons. Women are more likely to develop arthritis than men, especially after the menopause when lower oestrogen levels make joint problems more likely.
Experts do not yet know exactly what causes arthritis, but some forms run in families. Your lifestyle can also affect your risk of developing the condition. Overuse or injury of a particular joint means it’s at greater risk of future problems, so athletes or those who have jobs with repetitive actions, like cleaners, are more at risk. Carrying extra weight adds additional pressure on weight-bearing joints in your back, hips, knees, ankles, and feet.
Common arthritis symptoms
In OA, cartilage protecting the end of bones is worn away so the bare bones rub together, making joints stiff, painful, and creaky. Any joint can be affected but the knees, hips, and hand joints are most affected because they do a lot of work.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are slightly different. In RA, an inflamed joint looks swollen and red, and may feel warm and tender. RA usually starts in the wrists, hands or feet, but can spread to other joints in your body.
The best arthritis treatment
At the moment, there is no cure for arthritis, so treatment is all about managing your pain. Physiotherapy, osteopathy, chiropractic, and massage all help keep the joints working. One of the most common drug treatments is NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), but talk to your GP about other medication available for your type of arthritis.
You can try taking a glucosamine supplement, as glucosamine is a major part of the protein that forms cartilage in joints. Natural anti-inflammatory remedies include ginger, extract of green-lipped muscle, bromelain, curcumin, and Devil’s Claw. Garlic increases blood flow to affected joints, which helps calm down joint inflammation.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids, found in oily fish such as salmon or a supplement, have anti-inflammatory effects, and may also improve joint mobility.
Magnesium may be useful, as it helps the body absorb calcium which healthy bones depend upon. Green veggies, nuts and whole grains are all rich sources of magnesium, or try taking a magnesium supplement.
Being active is essential for both preventing and improving arthritis symptoms. Studies have found people who exercise regularly, even something as simple a going for a walk, report less joint pain than people who do no exercise.
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This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.