Read our expert advice on how to ease your arthritis symptoms
Arthritis is defined by the NHS as a ‘common condition that causes pain and inflammation in a joint’. It’s estimated that more than 10 million people in the UK live with arthritis or a similar condition. While it can affect anyone, including children, it usually develops in middle age and beyond. Our guide will help you to understand arthritis and ease arthritis pain.
What types of arthritis are there?
There are many different types of arthritis each with differing characteristics, causes, and treatment approaches.
Osteoarthritis (the 'wear and tear' form of arthritis
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, affecting nearly 9 million people. It often causes problems (pain, stiffness and swelling) in the knees, hips and small joints of the hands and is most common in people over the age of 60.
Professor Conaghan, Versus Arthritis spokesperson, and Musculoskeletal Medicine says, “Osteoarthritis is the process of joint failure. Any joint that helps us to walk, run, take steps or even sit down, works hard every day and is subject to damage - particularly the knees, hips, lumbar and neck region of the spine.”
“The cartilage and bone in joints becomes damaged and worn down. Some injuries might have happened when you were 19 but affect you years later. Add to this loss of muscle strength through lack of exercise and sedentary jobs, and you have what I refer to as a total lifetime load on your joints.”
Although you are unlikely to avoid osteoarthritis completely as you age, it tends to affect people who are overweight or inactive the most because extra weight and/or lack of muscle strength puts strain on the joints. It can also affect very athletic people as they may have pushed their joints to the max.
Inflammatory arthritis including rheumatoid arthritis
Inflammatory arthritis happens when you get inflammation or a build-up of fluid in the joints. There are several types, but the most common is rheumatoid arthritis which affects around 450,000 people in the UK, and roughly two to three times more women than men. The exact cause is unclear, but there’s a strong genetic component.
Spondyloarthritis, also known as spinal osteoarthritis or degenerative disc disease, is a common condition in older people that causes pain and swelling around the spinal joints.
Gout and calcium crystal diseases
Gout and calcium crystal diseases are a type of inflammatory arthritis characterised by the formation of crystal deposits that can cause painful swelling in the joints, typically the big toe.
Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic autoimmune condition that combines the symptoms of arthritis with psoriasis, a skin condition characterised by red, scaly patches of skin. The body’s immune system causes painful swelling and stiffness within and around the joints, as well as psoriasis symptoms. It's considered an inflammatory arthritis and it’s also a type of Spondyloarthritis.
What causes arthritis?
The specific causes of arthritis are complex and multifactorial, combining genetic predisposition and environmental triggers.
What are the symptoms of arthritis?
The symptoms of arthritis vary depending on the type of arthritis and the affected joints. However common symptoms include:
- joint pain, tenderness, and stiffness
- inflammation in and around the joints
- restricted movement
- warm, red skin on the affected joint
- weakness and muscle wasting
If you are not sure if you have arthritis, look at the pattern of your symptoms. If you have a joint ache that lasts for more than two weeks or your pain isn’t responding to simple painkillers, go and see your GP.
Does cold weather affect arthritis?
Many people with arthritis report flare-ups in the winter with knees, hands and feet being most affected when it’s cold. The reason for this is not known but there are many theories.
7 ways cold weather could affect arthritis
- Atmospheric pressure: cold weather is thought to increase pressure on our joints, resulting in increased pain
- Lack of vitamin D: try taking a vitamin D supplement in the colder months to support your bone health
- We feel more pain: it’s thought that lower temperatures make pain receptors more sensitive
- Joint stiffness: cold temperatures can cause joint fluids to become thicker, making them stiffer and less flexible
- Reduced blood flow: cold weather may cause blood vessels to constrict, making joints and their surrounding tissues more susceptible to pain and stiffness
- Inactivity: people do less exercise in colder weather, weakening muscles and joints
- Dampness: damp or humid conditions can exacerbate joint pain and stiffness.
How can I ease arthritis pain?
GP and arthritis expert, Dr Fiona Chikusu, explains ways to manage arthritis and ease the symptoms when it’s cold outside, saying, “a quick and cost-effective way to make arthritis feel better in the winter is to wear lots of layers that will help to trap body heat.”
10 tips to help ease arthritis pain from Dr Chikusu:
- Go to your GP: this is essential to ensure you get the best treatment. They can give you specific advice to help you manage your pain with anti-inflammatory creams and painkillers. There are many options to treat arthritis today and it doesn’t mean that you’ll need a joint replacement operation
- Stay active: daily exercise to improve your muscle strength is key to reducing symptoms. Opt for low-impact exercises such as swimming, yoga or tai chi, and warm-up thoroughly beforehand
- Maintain a healthy weight: being just 10 pounds overweight increases pressure on your knees by 30-60 pounds
- Eat well: eating a nutritious diet will help to ensure you’re as fit as possible
- Keep your vitamin D in check: it is worth getting your vitamin D levels checked by your GP and consider supplements, especially in winter. Calcium is also essential to keep your bones strong
- Stay warm: wrap up with gloves, scarves, hats and warm socks. Hand warmers are a great option for anyone who has arthritis in their hands. Massage and hot baths can also help
- Adapt your environment: there are plenty of helpful gadgets available to make life easier and support you with everything from gardening to getting dressed
- See an occupational therapist: they can suggest things to make your life easier for example, lever taps. If the seats in your home are quite low, then add extra support with cushions. You can also buy toilet seat covers with added height
- Do things you enjoy: don’t let aching joints stop you from socialising, instead find sociable activities that are still comfortable
- Join a support group: Versus Arthritis offers support groups across the UK where you can share experiences and enjoy activities.
How to ease arthritis pain: tips from McCarthy Stone homeowners
Diana, a McCarthy Stone homeowner from Wolverhampton in the West Midlands says it’s important to share. “Talking with others really helps and they’ll be more understanding if you can't make social events when symptoms flare up. When it comes to managing the pain, Pilates has helped me, as has trying to keep busy in general.”
For McCarthy Stone homeowner Patricia, in Chippenham, Wiltshire, exercise and positivity are key, “I try to get as much exercise as I can, as this helps to alleviate the stiffness. I think that when you’re dealing with arthritis, it’s important to take each day as it comes. Walk as much as you can and try to get exercise for your joints.”
Don’t just put up with pain and discomfort
While living with arthritis isn’t always easy, there are lots of things you can do to ease symptoms. Dr Chikusu says, “Although there’s no cure, treatments have improved greatly in recent years and, for many types of arthritis, there’s a clear benefit in starting treatment at an early stage.”
It’s important to get support, so make sure you talk to your GP, but also consider getting advice from specialist charities like Versus Arthritis or opening up to friends and family.
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