May is Arthritis Awareness Month
Did you know that Jeanine was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis nearly 20 years ago when she was in her early twenties. It wasn't due to age or wear-and-tear, but was instead the result of her immune system mistakenly attacking otherwise healthy joints and tissues. RA changed her life in some not-so-great ways, but it was also partly responsible for what led her to discover her love of Pilates!
"Arthritis" is actually a common and informal way of referring to joint pain or joint disease, not a single disease. There are more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions that affect people of all ages, sexes and races. Nearly 60 million adults and 300,000 children have some type of arthritis. It is more common among women, occurs more frequently as people age, and is the leading cause of disability in America.
Common arthritis symptoms include joint swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. Symptoms can be mild, moderate or severe, can remain stable for prolonged periods or can progress and get worse over time. Severe arthritis can result in chronic pain and the inability to do daily activities due to permanent joint changes. These changes may be visible, such as knobby finger joints, but often the damage can only be seen on X-ray or through other diagnostics as some forms of arthritis also affect the heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys and skin as well as the joints.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. When the cartilage – the slick, cushioning surface on the ends of bones – wears away, bone rubs against bone, causing pain, swelling and stiffness. Risk factors include excess weight, family history, age and previous injury. Regular physical activity, hot and cold therapies, over-the-counter pain relievers and assistive devices are commonly used to help manage mild to moderate osteoarthritis symptoms.
A healthy immune system is protective, but with inflammatory types of arthritis, the immune system doesn’t work properly and mistakenly attacks the joints with uncontrolled inflammation, potentially causing joint erosion. Inflammation can also damage to internal organs, eyes and other parts of the body. Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis are examples of inflammatory arthritis. With autoimmune and inflammatory types of arthritis, early diagnosis and aggressive treatment is critical. Treatment goals include reducing pain, improving function, and slowing disease activity to help minimize permanent joint damage.
A bacterium, virus or fungus can sometimes enter a joint and trigger inflammation. Examples of organisms that can infect joints are salmonella and shigella (food poisoning or contamination), chlamydia and gonorrhea (sexually transmitted diseases) and hepatitis C (a blood-to-blood infection, often through shared needles or transfusions). In many cases, timely treatment with antibiotics may clear the joint infection, but sometimes the arthritis becomes chronic.
Uric acid is formed as the body breaks down purines, a substance found in human cells and in many foods. Some people have high levels of uric acid because they naturally produce more than is needed or the body can’t get rid of it quickly enough. In some people, uric acid builds up and forms needle-like crystals in the joint, resulting in sudden spikes of extreme joint pain, or a condition called gout.. Gout can come and go in episodes or, if uric acid levels aren’t reduced, can become chronic, causing ongoing pain and disability.
If you have joint pain, the most important first step is to get an accurate diagnosis of what’s causing your joint pain and to talk with your health care providers about your symptoms. You may be referred to a rheumatologist or orthopedist, doctors who specialize in arthritis and related conditions, or may be referred to a physical therapist. Just remember, there are MANY things that can be done to preserve joint function, mobility and quality of life...and Via Pilates is here to help!