— This article on arthritis including treatments such as glucosamine was written by Dr Rob Hicks, a part time GP and clinical assistant in sexual health medicine.
He is the Classic FM radio doctor and columnist for the Metro newspaper. He believes that prevention is better than cure and keeping healthy should be fun, not hard work.
Over the years I’ve heard osteoarthritis described in many ways – some say it’s like being in a constricting and restricting suit such that it controls what you can do from day to day. For those of us who fortunately are not afflicted by this unpleasant disease, it can be difficult to appreciate just what it does to a person, but you do need to bear in mind, the problem of wear and tear of the joints is invisible to the naked eye, and therefore it can affect us all.
Wear and tear on joints
The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis, is caused by “wear and tear” of a joint. Over time, the cartilage that protects the end of bones is worn away so that bare bones rub together, which is why it’s also known as “degenerative arthritis”. This wear and tear makes the joint stiff, painful, and creaky.
Recently I spent some time wearing an osteoarthritis simulation suit, so I could get a better understanding of what my patients suffer with. The first thing I noticed once inside the suit was how stiff everything felt. Signing my name, doing up shirt buttons, and making a cup of tea took an incredibly long time, climbing a short flight of stairs was uncomfortable, tiring, and somewhat precarious. After only 20 minutes in the suit, I felt exhausted, so quickly realised what it meant to suffer this day in day out.
8 million UK sufferers
This also reminded me how of the estimated 8 million people in the UK who have the condition, not all are in the older age-group. Although it’s more likely with increasing age, younger people can be affected too. There are many factors that can contribute to the condition:
- Being overweight can put strain on the joints making them more likely to wear out.
- Overuse of a particular joint, or joint injury, means the joint is at greater risk.
- Those who do a lot of physical training, and those whose work involves repetitive actions of a particular joint are at greater risk.
Don’t let arthritis stop you!
The first step is to set a goal. Now obviously most people want to be free of pain, but I’ve found it’s more helpful if people have a more personal goal to aim for so I ask ‘what is your osteoarthritis stopping you from doing?’ For example, it may be to walk to the newsagents and back without difficulty, or to tend the garden. One of my patients wanted to learn to ride a horse.
Exercise is very helpful. It relieves pain, strengthens the muscles around the joints, and releases the body’s feel-good chemicals, the endorphins. Exercise also aids weight loss when this is necessary, so lessening the pressure on weight-bearing joints. All in all exercise facilitates a more positive outlook.
Conventional treatments such as painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication are beneficial for many. Physiotherapy, osteopathy, and acupuncture can help too. Glucosamine and chondroitin help many people with osteoarthritis, particularly that affecting the knees, by relieving osteoarthritis symptoms. Glucosamine is a major part of the protein that forms cartilage, and chondroitin is part of the cartilage and acts as a shock absorber. Glucosamine and chondroitin may also help repair damaged joints.
Other natural treatments with anti-inflammatory actions include, omega-3 essential fatty acids, extract of green-lipped muscle, and Devil’s Claw. Garlic increases blood flow to affected joints and this in turn helps calm down joint inflammation and Bromelain comes for the stem of the pineapple plant and is another effective anti-inflammatory pain reliever.
For many who have osteoarthritis each day can be a real challenge. My brief time and experience in the osteoarthritis simulation suit brought this home to me all too clearly. I was lucky, I could just take the suit off (I needed help to do that too). Even though there are times when fitting artificial joints becomes necessary, someone with osteoarthritis can’t just switch bodies.
They can, however, metaphorically get out the suit and achieve the life they want, rather than the one osteoarthritis grants them, with a little help and support, the right treatments and supplements, and a positive attitude that says, ‘I’m not going to put up with this. I’m going to get back in control’.