Arthritis is a common condition causing joint pain, stiffness and swelling. The most common types are Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis. These are distinctly different. In this article we will describe Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis. It occurs when the cartilage that lines the joints wears down. This may be due to past injury, cumulative wear and tear or simply the ageing process.
OA commonly occurs in the large weight-bearing joints of the body – the hips, knees, feet and spine but it can also affect any of the synovial joints in the body, including the fingers, thumbs, shoulders, elbows and jaw. There is usually stiffness in the morning and pain may be worse after prolonged or heavy activity.
Over time the cartilage becomes thinner and loose pieces debris can float in the synovial fluid, which lubricates the joint. The bony surfaces of the joint can also develop projections called osteophytes. These may contribute to pain and inflammation.
Research shows that keeping active and maintaining your weight in the healthy range is the best approach to managing osteoarthritis. Advanced osteoarthritis can result in loss of normal strength and mobility. Eventually surgical options such as arthroscopy or joint replacement may be indicated. Physiotherapy can help delay the need for surgery.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory auto-immune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the joints. Morning stiffness can typically last for half an hour or longer after rising. Pain and inflammation can be severe if the condition is left untreated.
This form of arthritis commonly attacks many joints in the body on both sides. This includes the small peripheral joints in the hands and feet, spinal joints, shoulders, elbows, knees and hips. In Australian diagnosis is usually made by a rheumatologist based on history, clinical examination, blood tests and X-rays or scans.
In RA, the synovial lining of affected joints becomes inflamed and the joints are red, hot and swollen. Without treatment there is thickening of the joint capsule. The adjacent cartilage and bone can become damaged causing joint deformity. RA can also affect blood vessels, lungs, heart and skin. New medications are available that help prevent the joint destruction and tissue damage, which people with rheumatoid arthritis previously developed.
The cause of RA is unknown, but it’s more common in women, affects smokers more than non-smokers and there are appear to be hereditary factors.
Gentle exercise helps rheumatoid arthritis sufferers to relieve stiffness and promotes good circulation, maintaining joint mobility without aggravating pain and swelling. Examples are walking, swimming, hydrotherapy. Feldenkrais can also help to maintain mobility without causing excessive joint strain.
Fibromyalgia is not really a form of arthritis, but it has many similar features. These usually include chronic pain, aching and tenderness in multiple soft tissues and joints without changes on Xrays or blood tests. Fatigue, sleep problems, anxiety, memory problems and / or mood changes are also common. The cause is unknown, but being overweight and inactive is a risk factor.
VIEW VIDEO presentation on Fibromyalgia by Jodie Krantz – includes gentle Feldenkrais exercises in sitting.
Treatment: How We Can Help
Physiotherapy, Clinical Pilates and the Feldenkrais Method can all be helpful in managing the pain of arthritis and fibromyalgia. This is where our experienced Perth physios can really help. At Free2Move we initially provide a full assessment, hands-on treatment and home exercises. Therapeutic exercises help to maintain strength and range of movement without aggravating pain or swelling. Exercise also helps with circulation which supports the healing process.
The best place to begin is by booking an individual assessment, so that we can work out which treatment or exercise programme is best suited to your needs.