If you have been told that you have arthritis and want to know exactly what this means for you, this article will explain the most common types of arthritis.
I will also explain some scientifically proven arthritis pain relief medications and treatments that will help you take control of arthritis pain.
There are two types of arthritis and this can be confusing for most people. You may have been told you have arthritis but are not sure which one your doctor is talking about. The word arthritis comes from the Greek ‘arthron’ meaning joint and ‘-itis’ meaning inflammation, so arthritis = joint inflammation.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis; it affects around 8 million people in the UK and 27 million people in the US. In osteoarthritis (or OA for short) all of the tissues which surround a joint are broken down over time, which unfortunately is a normal part of the aging process. This basically means there is less cushioning between the bones so they rub together causing pain, stiffness and swelling. Most commonly affected joints are the spine, knees, hips and hands.
Rheumatoid arthritis is less common than OA; it affects around 400,000 people in the UK and 1.5 million in the US. In rheumatoid arthritis (RA) it is inflammation of the tissues surrounding the joint that causes the pain, stiffness and swelling. This is thought to be due to a faulty immune response, meaning the immune system is attacking the body’s own tissues. This can happen at any age and usually affects more than one joint at a time.
Both types of arthritis have common symptoms, so it is important that you get an accurate diagnosis to make sure you receive the correct treatment.
- Joint pain and stiffness, especially after you wake up.
- Joint swelling and warm red skin around the joint.
- Restricted movement of the joint.
Unfortunately there is no cure for arthritis; however you can take steps to prevent the condition worsening over time. You can also take medications to help relieve the symptoms.
Whatever type of arthritis you suffer with, it is important that you make some small changes to your daily routine to ensure that your body can cope with the problems. It may sound obvious but, diet and exercise are very important to living well with arthritis.
A healthy, balanced diet will help you to lose some weight. If you can lose some weight then the pressure on your joints will be reduced and they will become less painful. This sounds simple, but of course losing weight can be difficult. It is hard to change your eating habits; this is because they have been learned over your whole lifetime.
It is possible to learn new habits; you just have to remind yourself that you are doing it for your own good! Reduce portion sizes a little; avoid high sugar fizzy drinks; and no snacks after your evening meal. Stick to this and you will lose weight. It takes time, 3-6 months, but it works.
Regular exercise is also really important to reducing the pain of arthritis. I’m not taking about going to the gym or the track here, just 20-30 mins light exercise such as walking or housework EVERY DAY will be enough. It may be painful but, if you do nothing I guarantee the pain will get a lot worse. This is because your muscles and tendons will become stiff and weak through lack of use. Then just doing normal activity will become painful, and this can become a vicious circle of pain and under-activity.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis your doctor will also prescribe some anti-rheumatic medications to help stop the condition from worsening. These drugs will do nothing for osteoarthritis, and unfortunately there are no drugs which can stop osteoarthritis. Fortunately, diet and exercise have been proven to slow the progress of osteoarthritis. So start today.
To get relief from the pain you should consider taking some pain killers. These may not get rid of the pain completely, but they should reduce it to a manageable level. It is important that you take the right type of pain medication, which will depend on the symptoms you are experiencing.
If you have osteoarthritis, and there is no inflammation (swelling, redness) around the joint, then you should start by taking paracetamol (acetaminophen). Read the label and take the maximum recommended
dose (usually 1000mg every 4-6 hrs but please check the label first to be sure).
Paracetamol has been shown to be the most effective over-the-counter (no prescription needed) pain killer for most people suffering with arthritis pain. It is quite safe at the recommended dose, and also very cheap.
If you have inflamed joints, more common with rheumatoid arthritis, then you will benefit more by taking an anti-inflammatory painkiller such as ibuprofen. These types of painkillers are more effective at reducing pain caused by inflammation as they work in a slightly different way to paracetamol. Read the label and take the maximum recommended dose (usually 400mg every 4-6 hrs but please check the label).
Ibuprofen is also quite cheap, available without prescription, and safe at the recommended dose. However, high doses of ibuprofen taken for long periods of time can increase the risk of stomach and
kidney problems. So you must tell your doctor exactly how much you have been taking and how often. Your doctor can then decide if you should change to a different pain killer, or take additional medication to protect the stomach and kidney.
A general rule for all pain medication
A general rule for all pain medication is that you take it regularly. DON’T WAIT UNTIL THE PAIN BECOMES UNBEARABLE. By taking the medication regularly you will ensure that there is always enough of the drug in your body to be effective at reducing pain. Over time the body will act to breakdown and remove the medication from your system, which means the effect will begin to wear off. Taking another dose at the right time will mean that the pain levels do not rise again.
Think about how you can make these small changes to your lifestyle. Get a pen and paper and make a plan of how you will change your diet, and work out what time of day is best for you to do your 20 mins of activity. Good luck!