Get an Arthritis Plan

by Dr. Andrea Hilborn, NDOriginally published in The Kingston Whig-Standard

Many people suffer from arthritis. It’s not fun and can limit your ability to do your work and your recreational activities. I actually want to dedicate this week’s column to an arthritis sufferer who was grilling me for information after church a few weeks ago. (You know who you are). The problem becomes more and more common as we age.

If you have joint pain, you don’t necessarily just have to live with it. Use this handy five-step process to help you create a treatment plan for your arthritis.

Determine what type of arthritis it is. The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs because of wear and tear on the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs because the immune system is attacking the tissues of the joint. Osteoarthritis has the following characteristics: it usually isn’t symmetrical, morning stiffness goes away within about 30 minutes, and the pain is worse after using the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis is usually symmetrical. It produces pain, swelling and sometimes redness around the joints. Usually the small joints are involved in rheumatoid arthritis — hands and feet. Morning stiffness will last longer than 30 minutes. Besides asking about your symptoms, your doctor will probably do a blood test to check for rheumatoid factor, which is elevated in rheumatoid arthritis. Your doctor may also do an X-ray.

Exercise. It might seem like the worst idea when you’re hurting, but exercise definitely improves the pain and stiffness of arthritis. Lack of exercise will make you feel worse. This is true for people who are overweight, too, even though in the past some people recommended losing weight before trying to exercise. If you are having an acute flare-up of rheumatoid arthritis, check with your doctor to see what exercises are right for you. Generally, range of motion exercises (moving the joint through its full range), are safe even during rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups.

Reduce inflammation. Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis involve inflammation in the affected joints — OA to a lesser degree and RA to a greater degree. Anti-inflammatory supplements can help reduce this inflammation. Curcumine is extracted from turmeric, and it is a great anti-inflammatory for joint pain. It cannot be used with any type of blood-thinning medication. Some people will benefit from identifying and removing their food sensitivities. Sensitivity to nightshade family vegetables seems to be particularly common for people with RA. The most common nightshade vegetables include potatoes, eggplants, peppers and tomatoes.

Manage your pain. Topical herbal preparations can help decrease pain from joints. Essential oils produce a ‘counter-irritant’ effect, which essentially distracts you from the pain. Some anti-inflammatory herbs can help when applied topically. Acupuncture can also help reduce pain.

It may take some time to find the combination of therapies that works best for you. Give natural treatments at least four weeks before you expect to see results. I hope you find some relief!