India, at present, bears a leaping burden of arthritis, the prevalence of which is higher than several chronic conditions like Diabetes, AIDS and cancer. Recent data reveals that in India, about 15% of the population (that sums up to as much as over 180 million people) are affected by arthritis. Interestingly, arthritis is no more an age-related disorder and does not affect only those above 45 years. People at a younger age are also getting arthritis these days that poses a potentially major threat to pediatric health. Although we mostly tend to believe that surgery is the key to managing arthritis, it is not really true. Arthritis can be well-managed by controlling the pain and having a healthy quality of life. The word ‘Arthritis’ literally means the inflammation of one or more joints. Arthritis involves a breakdown of cartilage resulting in bones rubbing against each other thereby causing pain, swelling and stiffness.
Kinds of Arthritis
Arthritis can be of different types. The most common kind of arthritis is Osteoarthritis. It refers to old age-related wear and tear. The second most common kind of arthritis is known as inflammatory arthritis followed by metabolic arthritis, popularly known as gout, post-traumatic arthritis, infectious arthritis and more. The Arthritis Foundation defines inflammatory arthritis as a group of diseases characterized by inflammation of the joints and often other tissues. Inflammatory arthritis can be categorized as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus along with others. As mentioned above, rheumatoid arthritis is a kind of inflammatory arthritis and chronic progressive disease that causes inflammation in the joints leading to painful deformity and immobility, specifically affecting the fingers, wrists, feet, and ankles.
Metabolic arthritis occurs when uric acid builds up and leads to the formation of needle-like crystals in the joint. It can result in a sudden bout of extreme joint pain or a gout attack. Post-traumatic arthritis is secondary arthritis occurring after an injury or direct trauma to the particular joint. An infection in a joint is referred to as infectious arthritis. It is also known as septic arthritis and develops when bacteria or other infective microorganism caused infection spreads to a joint. Most of the people affected by any of the above conditions may not progress to an advanced stage of arthritis.
Managing arthritis without surgery
Controlling pain, minimizing joint damage and improving or maintaining the quality of life of the affected person should be the principal aim of arthritis treatment. Surgery, in fact, is mostly the last option among people with an advanced stage of the condition.
A majority of patients with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, metabolic arthritis and some patients with post-traumatic arthritis can be managed by non-surgical methods to begin with. These could be medications, lifestyle changes, dietary changes, exercises, physiotherapy, intra-articular injection in specific conditions and more.
The following are some ways in which one can manage arthritis without having to opt for surgery.
Lifestyle changes: Joint pain of short duration, in the absence of the above conditions (inflammations/infections), may only require simple measures like rest, ice / warm fomentation, a short duration of pain-relieving medications. People with arthritis of long duration and in the absence of the above conditions will benefit with a healthy diet, avoiding obesity, regular exercise, avoiding injuries, following correct body postures at the workplace, giving adequate rest to the body, and avoiding movements or activities that put extra stress on the joints.
Exercises: A simple walk, even for the elderly people, would be beneficial to keep the joints in a reasonably good condition. Physical activity not only has a positive effect on arthritic patients but it also has a positive effect on the mental health and overall wellbeing of an individual. However, one should certainly not overdo exercises or hard dieting as that may also have an adverse effect on the joints.
Proper diet: It is essential to include a diet that helps in keeping excessive arthritis pain at bay and managing the condition. Some foods that one must have if they are suffering from arthritis are fatty fish, garlic, ginger, broccoli, walnuts, berries, spinach, grapes, olive oil and tart cherry juice as they have anti-inflammatory properties and help in reducing inflammation, thereby providing relief to the joint pains. Avoid foods that tend to increase weight (sweets, fatty food, deep fried food etc)
Medications: People affected by rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or psoriasis may have to be evaluated by the doctor and will require appropriate medications, sometimes for a long duration spanning many years depending on each condition.
Maintaining an appropriate lifestyle, eating adequate and suitable food and keeping oneself active can help in preventing the progression of arthritis, avoiding getting into advanced stage of the condition and keeping surgery at an arm’s length for treating the condition.
Authored by Dr. Thirumalesh K Reddy, Sr. Consultant – Joint Replacement & Arthroscopic Surgery, Aster CMI Hospital