Arthritis: know the warning signs
Arthritis is often viewed as simply being a sign of ageing, with some people believing developing the condition will happen to many as we age. In fact, arthritis can affect a range of ages, even young children, and at its worst, can prove so debilitating that it greatly limits sufferers’ independence.
Know the warning signs
While the symptoms of arthritis are fairly similar across the two main forms of the condition (osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis), there are also some characteristic warning signs.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting the cartilage that lines our joints in a way that can’t be repaired by the body. It’s also the form of arthritis most likely to be overlooked, as symptoms can come and go according to things like your activity levels and the weather. In more severe cases, however, the symptoms can be continuous and life-limiting. These include:
- Tenderness, pain and stiffness in the joints
- Increased pain and stiffness after periods of immobility
- Joints that look slightly larger or more knobbly than usual
- A sensation, or the sound of grating or cracking in the joints
- Limited movement in the joints
- Weakness and muscle wastage
The joints where these symptoms appear most often are the knees, hips and hands, although osteoarthritis can appear in any joint in the body, so don’t discount warning signs stemming from elsewhere.
The other common form of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis differs from osteoarthritis because as well as affecting the joints, it can affect other parts of the body, too. It is also the most unpredictable form of arthritis, with some cases developing over several weeks and others over just a few days. The symptoms include:
- A throbbing, aching joint pain
- Stiffness in the joints
- Swelling, warmth and redness around the joints. In some cases, firm swellings called rheumatoid nodules may appear.
- Tiredness and a lack of energy
- A high temperature
- Poor appetite and, by extension, weight loss
Though the latter four symptoms are less common than those felt within the joints, they can still be experienced by sufferers and shouldn’t be brushed aside.
Controlling your symptoms
If a visit to your GP to diagnose such symptoms confirms that you are suffering from arthritis, you don’t need to resign yourself to an inactive lifestyle. There are a number of things you can do to help lessen the effects of your symptoms.
The first is regular, gentle exercise. This will keep your fitness levels up, help prevent muscle wastage, improve your overall quality of life and even strengthen your joints. Just make sure that you only take on what you can manage – even a simple walk or leisurely swim can help. If you aren’t sure what kind of exercise you’re most suited to, don’t be afraid to speak to your GP about a personalised plan.
Losing excess weight is also a simple way of relieving some of the pressure on your joints. The safest and most effective way to lose weight sensibly is to eat better, and move more. Trying to exercise as described is a great start, and a change in diet will complement this. Simple, healthy changes like correctly portioned meals (half vegetables, a quarter carbohydrates and a quarter protein) can make all the difference.
The symptoms of osteoarthritis in particular can be subdued using hot or cold packs, or even a simple hot water bottle placed on the affected area. In addition to this, you can try manual therapy, which involves a physiotherapist using stretching techniques to keep your joints soft and supple.
Physiotherapy is also very beneficial when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis, alongside massage and acupuncture, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy. This involves a small pulse of electricity being applied to the affected joint, to numb the nerve endings and help to ease some of the severe pain that can plague sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis.
If you have been experiencing some of the warning signs of arthritis, we hope that this article has been useful, and encouraged you to contact your GP. Arthritis isn’t a life sentence – it is something that can be controlled and that doesn’t have to take away your independence.
NHS website arthritis introduction
NHS website Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
NHS website Osteoarthritis symptoms
Boots WebMD preventing joint damage
NHS Osteoarthritis treatment
Arthritis care – exercise and arthritis
Arthritis care – diet and arthritis