Please note: The information provided should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of your own doctor or health care professional. If you are concerned in any way about your health you should consult your General Practitioner (GP).
Q: What is arthritis?
A: The word “arthritis” means ‘inflammation in the joints’. Inflammation is a difficult thing to imagine and describe, but it is part of the body’s normal healing process, just like the healing of a cut or a bruise. Inflammation can be thought of as being like a bruise with swelling on the inside of the joints, and this can cause pain and stiffness.
There are thought to be over 10 million people with some form of arthritis in the UK. It is the most common cause of disability in the UK and can affect people of all ages, not just older people.
Q: What causes arthritis?
A: There is no single ‘cause’ for arthritis, as there are so many different types that can affect a person. However, there are a number of important factors which can help reduce the risk of arthritis. Osteoarthritis, especially osteoarthritis of the knees and hips, is more common and causes more pain in people who are overweight. Drinking excessive alcohol can trigger an attack of gout, another form of arthritis. Smoking is more common in people who develop rheumatoid arthritis.
Q: What are the main symptoms of arthritis?
A: One of the main symptoms of arthritis is pain and stiffness of the affected joint. The pain felt differs hugely from person to person, and can come and go at different times.
The reason for this pain and stiffness depends on the type of arthritis causing it. In osteoarthritis, the body is attempting to repair itself, forming new bone which grinds painfully against your body. For people with rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the joints, causing swelling, pain and stiffness. Gout, meanwhile, is caused by crystals of uric acid irritating the joints.
Q: Many people think that you only get arthritis when you are really old. Is this true?
A: No, that’s not true at all. Osteoarthritis is more common as we get older but rheumatoid arthritis and other forms of so-called inflammatory arthritis can start at any age including babies.
Q: What is self-management of arthritis?
A: Self-management of arthritis involves learning a variety of methods to help manage both the physical and mental symptoms of the condition. As arthritis affects everyone in a different way, self-management means that individuals can choose the strategies that best suit their needs. There are many techniques that can help symptoms, especially managing weight, sensible use of pain-killing medicines, gentle exercise, and therapies to help with the mind, sleep or pain-related worries.
Q: Is the self-management approach suitable for all types of arthritis?
A: Yes, the self-management approach can be potentially beneficial for all forms of arthritis. It includes a menu of self-management options that can be tailored and delivered to your specific requirements.
Q: What lifestyle changes can help improve joint pain?
A: The two most important are to keep active, and to maintain a healthy weight. If you are inactive, start to move more, for example, just walk up and down stairs a few more times every day, and set low goals that you can easily achieve. If you are already active, move more. You should ideally be doing 30 minutes of moderate activity every day, such as walking, although any activity such as gardening is fine. This should be combined with some form of strength training such as weights or exercise against resistance twice a week, plus flexibility and balance training once a week, for example yoga or Tai Chi.
To keep to a healthy weight, try to avoid thinking of yourself as being on a diet as most diets that are too restrictive are destined to fail in the long run. Instead think more about healthy eating and putting healthy foods inside your body, for example, eat more fruit, vegetables and grains to fill you up, and try to eat less sugar. Work on your sleep by trying to avoid alcohol on some days as well as reducing caffeine, and keep your bedroom cool and dark without interruptions from a television or electronic devices. Manage your worries and low mood with exercise, preferably outdoors, as well as positive thinking, meditation or distraction with an absorbing hobby.
Q: Should you exercise if you have arthritis?
A: People with arthritis should continue exercising as much as possible. Regular exercise is essential as it helps to strengthen the muscles that protect and support the joints. Keeping active has even been proven to help reduce the pain of arthritis and improve function.
It is normal to sometimes feel a little sore or uncomfortable after exercise, especially if it is something you haven’t done for a while, but it is important to remember that this does not mean that you are harming your joints.
Osteoarthritis is not caused by too much exercise, and hard work does not damage the joints. People who have had sporting injuries are more likely to develop osteoarthritis in that joint, but even extreme sportsmen and women are not usually more prone to osteoarthritis.
Q: How important is it for those of us with arthritis to manage our weight?
A: Body weight plays a key part to arthritis, especially the three most common types of arthritis (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout). Excess weight places additional pressure on weight-bearing joints. A landmark study found one pound of weight-loss lessens four pounds of pressure on the knees, per step. For those with inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, carrying more body weight could reduce the chance of achieving remission.
(Reference: Messier S, Gutekunst D, Davis C and DeVita P (2005) Weight loss reduces knee-joint loads in overweight and obese older adults with knee osteoarthritis. Arthritis & Rheumatology 52(7): 2026-2032.)
Q: I am struggling to plan healthy meals. What do you suggest?
A: Besides input from our Dietitian, our website features a huge number of healthy, arthritis-friendly recipes created by our cookery Consultant (who has arthritis). We recommend you take a look through some of the tasty options available if you live with arthritis.
Q: I have another health condition as well as arthritis – what should I do?
A: If you have another health condition, it is advisable to speak to your GP and – of course – any advice received from your GP or other health professional should be heeded.
Q: I see that I can become a Member of Arthritis Action. What benefits are there to becoming a member?
A: Becoming a member of Arthritis Action offers you a selection of benefit options to help you self-manage your arthritis. These are based around helping you make lifestyle changes which will help you to manage your arthritis symptoms. As a Member, you can choose as many options from the list as you feel would benefit you. The list does change, but currently includes:
- Consultations with and/or telephone access to our Registered Dietitian
- Subsidised physical therapy sessions with an Associated Practitioner.
- Proirity booking on all Arthritis Action’s Self-management events
- A biannual Members’ Magazine
- Individualised support through our Personalised Member Pathway
- Access to our Volunteer-led Arthritis Action Connect telephone service