Arthritis is distinguished by inflammation and pain to the joints and is very common. There are up to 10,000 sufferers in the UK, and the condition can strike at any age, including childhood.
The disease manifests itself in a variety of symptoms, such as arthritis in the knee, arthritis in the neck, rheumatoid arthritis or even osteoarthritis.
There are two main types of arthritis in that of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is the most commonly experienced form of the condition, affecting up to 8.5 million.
It causes the connective tissue between bones, known as cartilage, to degrade. As a result the bones, lacking a protective buffer between them, rub painfully against each other.
Certain joints are particularly susceptible, so you will often find this kind of arthritis in knee, spine, hips and hand joints.
Osteoarthritis is not often found in the under 50s but can be provoked at a younger age by injuries (such as damage to the anterior cruciate ligament) or other conditions affecting joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition whereby the immune system starts to attack the joints, leading to swelling and pain.
The synovium (outer covering) is initially affected, and the condition can in some cases spread right through the joint, resulting in further swelling and in some cases the joint can actually change shape.
This leads to a breakdown of the affected cartilage and bone. It is more common in people who are 50 years or older, although it can present itself at any age, sometimes as a result of a separate joint condition or an injury.
With 400,000 Britons suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, symptoms usually begin between the ages of 40-50. Rheumatoid arthritis affects three times as many women as men.
There are myriad symptoms which vary between sufferers and types of the disease. Typically, these are noticed in joints:
- Pain, tenderness or stiffness
- Reduced movement
- Red, warm skin over the joint
- Weak and wasted muscles
Although usually considered an older person's disease, children can also be affected. Up to 12,000 children under the age of 16 suffer from arthritis in the UK.
A childhood diagnosis is usually called JIA or juvenile idiopathic arthritis. It can affect one or more joints, usually for a minimum of six weeks. A specific cause has not been identified, but symptoms often lessen with age and children with JIA often lead normal lives.
JIA can be categorised as follows:
This most common form affects up to four joints simultaneously. It is particularly arthritis in knee, wrist and ankle joints and is usually a short term illness with a good rate of recovery. An undesirable side effect of the condition can be eye problems, so it is important that sufferers undergo regular eye tests with an ophthalmologist.
Also known as polyarthritis, this form can strike five or more joints, and symptoms can begin at any point in childhood.
It resembles rheumatoid arthritis in adults in its symptoms, which can lead to a rash or high temperature.
Systemic onset JIA
The first symptoms of this form of arthritis tend to be fever, a rash, a lack of energy and swollen glands. Swelling and inflammation of joints may be noticed later. Again, this form can strike at any age during childhood.
Enthesis related arthritis
This form of juvenile arthritis is seen in teenagers and older boys. Pain strikes the soles of the feet, knees and hips at the points where ligaments are attached to bones.
How to manage arthritis
There is no outright cure for arthritis, however, there are many treatment options available that can slow the progress of the disease and relieve the symptoms.
In the case of osteoarthritis (where the main focus is in slowing down the degradation of cartilage), NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs), corticosteroids and several different types of painkillers can be prescribed. Physiotherapy, an exercise plan and even bracing are also options and sometimes preferred to taking medication which can have their own side effects.
For those suffering more severe symptoms, there are also a number of surgical routes including joint replacement (arthroplasty), joint fusion (arthrodesis) and bone re-alignment (osteotomy).
Rheumatoid arthritis is treated with an aim to slowing the conditions progress and minimising any resulting joint damage, typically through the use of painkillers and DMARDs (Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs).
Here are a few tips to help those with arthritis in knee and arthritis in neck conditions:
Keep on moving
Walking or other weight-bearing exercise will help to strengthen your muscles and will help to prevent osteoarthritis.
Manage your weight
Being excessively overweight can put extra pressure on your joints, so try to keep your weight at the right level for your height.
Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet can help in the management of your symptoms, and weight management is an important factor.
Try and eat a diet that is rich in vegetables, with plenty of starch and fibre. Avoiding fatty and high sugar foods or those high in salt is also recommended.
By watching your posture, you are making sure your joint structure remains healthy.
See a physiotherapist for advice and exercises, and if necessary, use a walking stick to stop your condition from worsening.
Regular exercise is recommended and targeted physiotherapy can be useful. You may find a specialist support garment for the area affected will help you to exercise in comfort.
For more information Arthritis Research UK offer a number of tips and guides for exercises to help with your arthritis.
Keep your joints healthy
Try to avoid any stress to your joints, as this can help to prevent osteoarthritis.
Please don’t fall into the trap of avoiding exercise thinking it will help; you need to keep on exercising. If you think occupational therapy may help, your GP can refer you. They can advise you on issues such as using the right equipment to live independently. If you need letters writing to social services or help with adapting your home, an occupational therapist can help here, too.
When living with arthritis, you are more at risk of having an accident due to decreased flexibility and mobility. Once again, there are a number of things you can do to help yourself:
- Arthritis in knee joints can knock you off balance sometimes, so try to take up an exercise like yoga or dance, which can help to improve your balance and coordination.
- Have regular eye tests, as your eyesight may worsen as you get older, so it’s important to keep it in check.
- Try to avoid excess alcohol, as this can also play havoc with your balance. The current guidelines are 2-3 units a day for women and 3-4 for men, so stick within these limits to keep yourself safe.
- Make your home as hazard-free as possible. Arthritis in knee joints will make you more prone to trips and stumbles, so keep wires out of the way, put a rubber mat in the bath and install rails in your bathroom to help you stand up more easily.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help with jobs like changing light bulbs or reaching things up high. A friend or family member will usually be only too happy to help.
- High heels look nice, but they are terrible for your posture, so stick to flats and you will be less likely to fall.
Arthritis in knee and arthritis in neck joints are not conditions that inevitably ruin your quality of life. By following these fairly simple measures, you can help to keep yourself as safe as possible.
Taking control of your condition can be very empowering. Both osteoarthritis (including knee arthritis) and rheumatoid arthritis can affect your emotional health quite apart from the physical effects, and there are many steps you can take to improve your quality of life in both these areas.
You should try not to let yourself be defined by your arthritis. After all, it is just one facet of who you are. Aim to educate yourself about your condition and keep up to date with the latest research.