Arthritis is a common health problem in India and more than one crore cases are diagnosed every year. Just like every other organ system of the body, our locomotor system too undergoes wear and tear and requires care and attention. There are many reasons why our joints deteriorate and lose their function gradually. Let us discuss all arthritis, its causes, and effective remedies.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis technically means an inflammation of the joints. Arthritis is a joint disorder, and one or more joints may be affected. There are different kinds of arthritis, however, the underlying features such as swelling, stiffness, and pain are seen in most of these. More than one crore of people in India are affected every year, and the number does not appear to be shrinking.
Although the conception is that arthritis is a problem of old age, such is not the case. Joint problems are common across all age groups. Different kinds of arthritis are specific for different age groups, for example, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is seen in children.
Types of Arthritis
There are more than a hundred kinds of joint ailments seen by clinicians all over the world. Some of these are more common than others. Some joint problems are degenerative while others are inflammatory. Below is a list of the most common arthritic and related complaints encountered in India.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease in joints. It is caused by prolonged wear and tear of the joints that leads to changes in joint integrity. Primarily a disease of old age, OA affects about 40% of the Indian population. Women are seen to be affected worse due to hormonal changes in later years of life.
OA mainly targets the weight-bearing joints of the body such as knees and hips. Initially, only pain and stiffness may be seen, but with time as the disease progresses pathological changes set in the joint. Joint replacement may be the last resort in irreversible cases.
2. Rheumatoid arthritis
It is another very common ailment that has primarily an inflammatory pathology. Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease that affects women in the middle ages more than it affects men. Small joints are typically affected more than the larger ones, for example, the wrists, fingers, feet, etc.
The typical features of arthritis-like swelling, pain, redness are seen here as well. Atypical features like fever, weakness, and loss of appetite are also found in cases of rheumatoid arthritis. The condition is chronic and long-lasting, although the symptoms may ease off for a while and then relapse.
Gout is inflammatory arthritis caused by an accumulation of excess uric acid in the body. Urate crystals are deposited around the joint tissue and these cause painful symptoms that last even for weeks. The joint is red, hot, and tender and the pain is severe. The big toe is most commonly affected. Dietary management is important in cases of gout.
4. Ankylosing spondylitis
This is also an auto-immune disease. It primarily affects the spine and causes erosion of bones. As the body tries to tackle this by producing new bone tissue, this leads to fusion of bone mass at various sites causing deformity and dysfunction of the joints. This condition has a strong hereditary component. Pain and stiffness are typical features.
5. Other types of arthritis
Commonly seen are reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, septic arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, etc. All of these have their own characteristic features and diagnostic criteria. However, pain and stiffness are generally common to all.
Aside from arthritis, certain other conditions may cause joint pains too. These are:
- Injury: Excessive effort or overstraining a joint may cause injuries. Sports injuries are the commonest cause of joint injuries. These may take a long time to heal, and pain may recur even after months.
- Infections: Some viral infections are particularly known for causing joint pains, even long after the infection has cleared. Dengue and chikungunya are common examples.
- Certain diseases: Some systemic diseases have joint manifestations. An auto-immune disease called lupus commonly presents itself in the form of joint pains.
- Deficiencies: Deficiency of vitamin D is also an important cause of joint pains. The problem is generally reversed on adequate intake of vitamin D.
How to treat joint pain?
The first step in the treatment of any problem is to get an accurate diagnosis. Joint pains due to injury or deficiency require a different mode of treatment than those occurring due to inflammation. Nutritional deficiencies are replenished via dietary supplements, and injuries require rest and elevation. Fractures need to be set correctly at an orthopedic center. Systemic diseases need their own treatment.
Typically, an x-ray is the investigation of choice for joint troubles. Sometimes an MRI may be indicated for clearer results, especially for spinal issues. X-rays are apt at detecting bony abnormalities, joint deformities, bone displacements, new bone tissue growth, etc. Blood investigations are carried out to further support the diagnosis. Raised ESR and CRP levels are indicative of inflammation and infection.
The role of exercise in treating joint problems
The importance of exercise and physical mobility cannot be underplayed when it comes to joint issues. Typically, as soon as the pain starts the person tends to put off using that joint altogether. Although in cases of injuries and acute inflammation immobilization is advised, for chronic joint problems regular movement of the joint is necessary to retain mobility. This is where the role of exercise and physiotherapy is important.
Physiotherapy helps to keep the joint active, prevents the formation of deformities, relaxes joint stiffness, and keeps the joints healthy for longer. However, physiotherapy should only be attempted under the guidance of a physiotherapist, at least initially.
The conventional treatment for joint pain is to prescribe painkillers and anti-inflammatories. Anti-inflammatory topical applications are also prescribed so as to relieve the inflammation quicker. Nutritional supplements may be given in case of deficiencies. Supportive treatment may be advised in the form of physiotherapy. For auto-immune conditions (such as rheumatoid arthritis) corticosteroids are prescribed which suppress the immune system.
Irreversible joint pathology is an indication for joint replacement surgery.
Although the conventional treatment for joint problems is quick and effective, it is not a practical solution for chronic problems because allopathic drugs if taken for an extended time have their own side effects. Continued usage of steroidal medicines is associated with an increased risk of many morbidities.
The role of herbal remedies and supplements is important when it comes to joint problems. Not only do herbal remedies help keep the joints healthy, but chronic joint problems respond to treatment better when supplemented by herbal medicines.
India has a long history of adopting herbal medicines and supplements for most health problems, and joint troubles are no exception. Many Indian herbs are well-known for their affinity for joint troubles. These herbs are combined with natural oils to prepare different types of herbal arthritis joint pain relief oil.
Some of these herbs which are helpful for Joint problem :
- Eucalyptus: This is quite well known for joint troubles and arthritic pains. It reduces inflammation in the affected joint. Eucalyptus oil is helpful as a pain reliever, and also when mixed with hot water for fomentation.
- Nirgundi: This herb is a powerful anti-inflammatory that helps relieve pain and stiffness in the affected joints. It is a popular ingredient for herbal joint pain relief oils.
- Boswellia Serrata: Also known as Shallaki, this is used either as an oil or in the form of a powder. The herb is helpful to reduce inflammation and increase blood circulation in the affected joints.
- Ajwain: This spice found commonly in Indian kitchens helps in arthritic pain owing to its anti-inflammatory properties. It is added in warm water and applied to the affected joints to reduce pain. Alternatively, ajwain water can be taken every day to keep the joints healthy.
- Turmeric: Turmeric is perhaps one of the most versatile and powerful spices found in Indian kitchens. It has an exceptional affinity for joints and is a strong anti-inflammatory. Turmeric is also frequently used in cases of injuries as it helps to relieve pain, prevent infections and promote healing.
- Shatavari: This is another ayurvedic herb that soothes painful joints, cool inflamed joint spaces, and relieves pain. It also helps provide lubrication in the joints which prevent wear and tear.
There are many other Indian and foreign herbs that have a strong affinity for relieving joint troubles. Herbal oils for joint pains are an excellent solution to aid the treatment of joint problems and arthritic pain. These make use of herbal components in various optimized compositions to achieve the best therapeutic effect. Such oils are helpful not only in reducing inflammation but also in improving blood circulation.
The combined effect is to reduce pain and improve mobility in the affected joint. Reduced inflammation helps in limiting the pathology and thereby arresting the disease process.
A life free of joint pains is possible and achievable in most cases. Well-opted and timely treatment aided by the help of herbal remedies can help in achieving this in the easiest way.