As those chilly autumn mornings approach us, we all start to feel more stiffness in our joints, but for some this can be more serious, as osteoarthritis affects at least 8 million people in the
UK, in their knees, hips, hands, neck and back.
The main symptoms of osteoarthritis are pain in the joints, stiffness, creaking (yes, creaking in the joints!) and swelling.
The pain and stiffness are often dismissed in the early stages, but as the disease progresses, the pain and stiffening increase until they can no longer be ignored and they can make it difficult
for us to sleep, walk without a limp, or even put on our socks in the morning!
The pain and stiffness in the joints of osteoarthritis sufferers is due to damage in the joints, a thin or rough cartilage, swelling in the joints and thickening and contraction in the
But where does it come from, and why are some people affected, but not others?
There are many factors that increase the risk of us developing osteoarthritis, these include:
- Our age – this may be due to our muscles becoming weaker as we get older, the gradual wearing down of our joints and our bodies taking longer to heal and repair.
- Being a woman - women are more likely to suffer from osteoarthritis, especially in the hands and knees, which is due to factors such as biology, genetics and hormones (the fall of oestrogen
levels after menopause).
- Our weight - which increases the load on our hips and knees.
- Our parents – many forms of osteoarthritis run in families and it is thought this is due to genes that affect collagen, a vital part of the cartilage.
- A joint injury.
- There are many ways for us to relieve the pain and stiffness in our joints and reduce the likelihood of the disease progressing:
- Weight management – as being overweight increases the strain on our joints, especially our knees. It also increases the risk of osteoarthritis and makes it more likely that our arthritis will get
worse over time. There's no special diet that helps with osteoarthritis, but a well-balanced, reduced-calorie diet and regular exercise will help anyone to lose weight if they need to.
- Exercise - it's very important to keep our joints moving. We need to find the right balance between rest and exercise – little and often is usually best. There are 2 types of exercise we need to
do: (i) Strengthening exercises that improve the strength and tone of the muscles that control our affected joints, help to stabilise and protect the joint and reduce pain. These exercises are
particularly important for the thigh muscles (quadriceps) if we have osteoarthritis of the knee, as they can stop the knee giving way and reduce the tendency to fall; (ii) Aerobic exercises increase
our pulse rate and make us short of breath, but they help us to sleep better, are good for our general health and can even reduce pain.
- Swimming is especially good for people with osteoarthritis because the water supports our weight, so we don't put a lot of strain on our joints.
- Wearing low-heeled shoes with thick soft soles (trainers are ideal) - thicker soles act as shock absorbers for our feet, knees, hips and back. At the opposite end of the scale, high heels alter
the angle of our hips, knees and big toe joints and put additional strain on them.
- Keep joints moving - in particular, don't keep an osteoarthritic knee still or in a bent position for too long as this will eventually affect the muscle.
- Glucosamine Sulphate and chondroitin – which are compounds that are normally found in joint cartilage and some studies suggest that taking these supplements regularly can improve the health of
our damaged cartilage. They are both available, quite cheaply, from local chemists and supermarkets and over the Internet. Glucosamine can affect the level of sugar in your blood so you should keep
an eye on your blood sugar levels if you have diabetes and see your doctor if they increase.
- Relaxation - Learn to relax your muscles and tension in your body.
Which brings me nicely back to alternative therapies such as Reflexology and Indian Head Massage. Both of these treatments help with pain, stiffness and our general well-being and I have a number
of clients who come regularly for treatments for their osteoarthritis.