Arthritis explained

Learn about arthritis, including the symptoms and management.

Arthritis explained

It’s Arthritis Awareness Week (Sunday, 15 March – Saturday, 21 March), so Lesh, our resident health writer, explains the ins and outs of this chronic and, at times, debilitating condition.

Arthritis is not a single condition. It is, in fact, a group of more than 100 medical conditions that affect one or more joints – where two or more bones meet.

The three most common forms – which collectively affect more than 95 per cent of Australian arthritis sufferers – are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout. Both rheumatoid arthritis and gout are inflammatory disorders, whereas osteoarthritis is degenerative in nature.

Other forms of arthritis are mostly inflammatory conditions and include:

  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Juvenile arthritis
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus)
  • Scleroderma.


Symptoms that are common to arthritis conditions include pain, stiffness, inflammation and damage to joint cartilage (the tissue that covers the ends of bones, enabling them to move smoothly against each another) and surrounding tissue.

Understandably, therefore, arthritis can cause painful and limited movement that invariably impacts an affected person’s quality of life – by interfering with basic daily tasks, such as walking, climbing stairs, driving, cleaning and cooking.

According to Arthritis Australia, “arthritis is the major cause of disability and chronic pain in Australia, with 3.85 million Australians affected at a cost to our economy of more than $23.9 billion each year in medical care and indirect costs such as loss of earnings and lost production.”

Scarily, these figures will continue to rise as the population ages, with a prediction of seven million Australians suffering from some form of arthritis by 2050. Arthritis, however, is not necessarily a normal consequence of ageing; most Australians who have the condition are of working age.

While presently there’s no cure for arthritis, there are ways to manage the pain and symptoms and look after joint health to maintain movement and independence. Some good news is that an early uptake of certain lifestyle measures can delay the onset of osteoarthritis – one of the most common forms – and may reduce the number of people with osteoarthritis in Australia by about 500,000 within 15 years.

For osteoarthritis in particular, the following approaches have shown to be helpful:

  • suitable exercises
  • a healthy diet
  • weight management
  • joint-protective aids and devices
  • self-management courses run by Arthritis Australia
  • over-the-counter pain medicines, as advised by your doctor or pharmacist.

The symptoms of arthritis and its management will vary from person to person. If you’ve been diagnosed with a form of arthritis, it’s best to speak to your doctor to find safe treatment and management options for you.

For support and self-management courses, contact Arthritis Australia on 1800 011 041 or visit its website





    COMMENTS

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    aly_rob60
    16th Mar 2015
    11:48am
    At at 50, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my hands, specifically my thumb joints. Painful joint pain accompanied by weakness in my hands affecting my grip strength, made it impossible for me to continue in my trade as a signwriter.

    I tried ALL the so-called natural remedies and medicines prescribed by my GP. Some helped minimise the discomfort, but the damage was already done. Scary stuff to find out too, that Celebrex (although a marvellous drug for joint pain) is bad for your heart......so I ceased using that a long time ago.

    Bone on bone pain is debilitating!

    My only option was surgery and 8 months on from having my right thumb operated on, I am so glad that I went down this track. I have now had my left thumb done (currently in a splint) and know that it will be as successful as my right thumb.

    I can really recommend people who are in a the same or similiar position, to ask your GP for a referral to a specialist.

    My op was called a "Trapezietomy + - APL Suspension Athroplasty".

    Awesome result!
    Happy cyclist
    16th Mar 2015
    12:37pm
    Aly, our stories started out identical but have had different endings. It got my hands also at 50, very painful and weak. I went the steroid injection route, some relief but it wore off. After a few years, I looked into diet. To cut a long story short I cut out all sugar (yes, it's difficult) and I cut out all dairy except a little good quality yoghurt daily. Also cut back significantly on red meat and alcohol--all the foods which keep your body in an acidic state. Pleased to report today I am virtually pain free (although the disfiguration remains) and I have strength back in my hands. Compared to how they were a few years ago, it really is a miracle.
    aly_rob60
    16th Mar 2015
    12:40pm
    Happy cyclist...yes I too have been able to give up sugar and minimised my dairy intake. I am currently following a Paleo diet which has improved my mobility in all other joints.

    Glad to hear that you have not had to go down the path of surgery! Yes, it is a miracle!
    Jacks
    16th Mar 2015
    1:03pm
    Too bad the government wants people to delay retirement, but ignorantly has taken away the things that will keep people with arthritis working longer. Like funding for hydrotherapy, offering only five physiotherapy sessions for medicare rebates etc
    rtrish
    16th Mar 2015
    1:56pm
    Good argument, Jacks. Can you imagine working way into the 100's, with all the health issues we get as we age? Also, for those on Disability penion, as I used to be, the pension does give people "enough" to live on but does NOT help with the costs associated with illness or disability.
    Nan Norma
    16th Mar 2015
    6:40pm
    I've been going to aqua aerobics for 14 years and now in my 70's no arthritis at all. Maybe I'm just lucky but both my parents suffered with arthritus.
    Rosret
    17th Mar 2015
    7:17am
    The weather has a huge impact on the joints. I could replace the bureau of meteorology when it comes to predicting rain. The best thing to extract moisture from the air is the reverse cycle aircon however I have no idea what each electricity bill will be so it now stays off.
    aly_rob60
    17th Mar 2015
    7:32pm
    We are planning a move to a warmer, more humid climate.....Melbourne's weather sucks!!!

    Our joints have suffered greatly due to the changeable weather.
    Nan Norma
    17th Mar 2015
    7:37pm
    Come to qld.
    talofa
    17th Mar 2015
    2:43pm
    I am an over 70yold exnurse & a sceptic...so I tried painkillers (not much help then I tried
    glucosamine/chondroit & to my surprise it worked quickly & well & I now can manage this
    well...talofa
    Nan Norma
    17th Mar 2015
    5:29pm
    glucosamine/chondroit Great stuff. Works for a lot of people.
    buby
    18th Mar 2015
    8:58pm
    i have oesteo arthiritis, and it really hurts during the colder months in melbourne. and Worse when the weather gets cold one day then cooliss the next, then hot again......but i have found when i use lots of ginger fresh or dried in my foods, and one tab a day of fish oil, and omega three from flaxseeds. Its so very helpful. I too have cut down on sugar, well to a degree, but the bones surely need it, otherwise why would i crave yoghurt, and icecream lol.......dread ful i know. but alls fairly well. cheers ppls. OH and turmeric is lovely in stir fry, as is ginger :)