In general terms, arthritis is a gradual breakdown or deterioration of the joint spaces in your musculoskeletal system. According to some experts, eight out of 10 Americans over the age of 55 suffer from one form of arthritis or another. In many cases, arthritis can become so painful and debilitating, simple tasks such as opening a jar or holding a pencil can be difficult. Arthritis affects everyone in different ways. In some, joints in the spine, fingers, wrists, shoulders, knees-even toes-lose their normal shape and large amounts of fluid and debris fill the joint space. There are many causes of arthritis. A major cause is simply age. Injury or suppressed or weakened immune systems are others. Some people have no choice-it is simply hereditary. In most people, the body responds to the onset of arthritis by making extra bone. Your body makes this material in an attempt to shore up the degenerating joint. This additional material, or overgrowth, is called a bone spur or osteophyte. Bone spurs are typically found in the joint or disc spaces, where cartilage has begun to break down or deteriorate. Bone spurs sometimes block the spaces where nerve roots leave the spinal canal.
- Joint pain
- Loss of muscle control
- Muscle spasms
- Stabbing pain in the extremities
Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis are the Most Common types of Arthritis
The most common and degenerative form of arthritis that mostly affects the elderly is called osteoarthritis. In some, osteoarthritis may affect the spine’s facet joints, making it extremely painful to bend or twist. Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage to break down and away from the joints. Stripped of their protective material, the joints begin rubbing against each other, causing pain and impeding movement. This action further irritates the surrounding nerves. Advanced forms of spinal osteoarthritis can lead to disc collapse and other problems. Osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative join disease and affects up to 30 million Americans, mostly women and usually those over 40 years of age. In addition to the hips, knees and lower back, arthritis commonly occurs in the neck, small finger joints, the base of the thumb, and the big toe. In the fingers, nodes (masses of bone and cartilage) can form on either side of the nail bed or the margins of joints to become reddened, tender and swollen. Cartilage breakdown in the hips and knees can be severe enough to require joint replacement. Osteoarthritis found in other joints, such as the hinge of the jaw, is often due to injury or stress. Spinal arthritis is one of the common causes of back pain. Spinal arthritis is the mechanical breakdown of the cartilage between the aligning facet joints in the back portion (posterior) of the spine that quite often leads to mechanically induced pain. The facet joints (also called vertebral joints or zygapophyseal joints) become inflamed and progressive joint degeneration creates more frictional pain. Back motion and flexibility decrease in proportion to the progression of back pain induced while standing, sitting and even walking. Over time, bone spurs (small irregular growths on the bone also called osteophytes) typically form on the facet joints and even around the spinal vertebrae. These bone spurs are a response to joint instability and are nature’s attempt to help return stability to the joint. The enlargement of the normal bony structure indicates degeneration of the spine. Bone spurs are also seen as a normal part of aging and do not directly cause pain, but may become so large as to cause irritation or entrapment of nerves passing through spinal structures, and may result in diminished room for the nerves to pass, a condition referred to as spinal stenosis.
Common causes of Osteoarthritis include:
- Excess weight
- Associated diseases
An equally painful and destructive form of arthritis is called rheumatoid arthritis.
The word “arthritis” means “joint inflammation” and is often used in reference to rheumatic diseases. Rheumatic diseases include more than 100 conditions, including gout, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and many more. Rheumatoid arthritis is also a rheumatic diseases, affecting about 1 percent of the U.S. population (about 2.1 million people.) Although rheumatoid arthritis often begins in middle age and is more frequent in the older generation, it can also start at a young age.
Rheumatoid arthritis causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in the joints. Several features distinguish it from other kinds of arthritis:
- Tender, warm, and swollen joints.
- Fatigue, sometimes fever, and a general sense of not feeling well.
- Pain and stiffness lasts for more than 30 minutes after a long rest.
- The condition is symmetrical. If one hand is affected, the other one is, too.
- The wrist and finger joints closest to the hand are most frequently affected. Neck, shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, ankle, and feet joints can also be affected.
- The disease can last for years and can affect other parts of the body, not only the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is highly individual. Some people suffer from mild arthritis that lasts from a few months to a few years and then goes away. Mild or moderate arthritis have periods of worsening symptoms (flares) and periods of remissions, when the patient feels better. People with severe arthritis feel pain most of the time. The pain lasts for many years and can cause serious joint damage and disability.
Patients with arthritis who take an active role in their own treatment can prevent additional joint damage and usually will be able to continue with most of their normal activities. The key to managing the condition is to get an accurate diagnosis and start early, proactive treatment. Most treatments are focused on reducing the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis and maintaining the joint mobility and flexibility needed to continue with necessary and desired activities. It is clear that a combination of chiropractic adjustments to improve joint mobility and relieve pain, proper exercise, weight control, and nutrition is required to control arthritis.
Chiropractic for arthritis treatment addresses the practical issue of getting the body to move more freely. Once the body is aligned to move with fewer restrictions, the need for pain-relieving medications lessens or disappears altogether.
Chiropractic as a regular treatment will also help prevent arthritis, or at least its damaging effects. This form of prevention is probably the most crucial benefit in treating the disease. The lifestyle changes and therapies associated with chiropractic will influence diet, exercise, and maintaining the body’s alignment that practitioners believe will offset health problems that might accompany arthritis. Proper weight and a healthy immune system are both important factors in limiting the devastating effects of all forms of arthritis, especially osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Chiropractic offers multiple benefits in offsetting the undesirable effects of this disease that can take so many undesirable forms for so many people.
Arthritis Pain Relief Research
Unfortunately, one of the common symptoms of all types of arthritis is pain. As a result, individuals with arthritis often seek out chiropractors for natural arthritic pain relief. Considering that the medical community struggles with arthritis pain relief, it isn’t surprising that people are turning to alternative medical procedures. In fact, in the journal, Annals of Internal Medicine, a recent study reported that an astounding 63% of patients seeing a rheumatologist for rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia, sought out some type of alternative medicine. Of these individuals, a full 31% visited a chiropractor – making chiropractic therapy the most popular alternative arthritic pain relief therapy. More importantly, 73% of the individuals with arthritis that did seek a chiropractor’s help found chiropractic therapy helpful.