You Don’t Have to Suffer with Arthritis
Arthritis is something we talk about all the time. It is unbelievably prevalent in society. Statistics show that 1 out of 3 people from the ages of 18 to 65 suffer from arthritis. When we just look at people 65 years of age and older, the number jumps to 1 out of 2. With percentages like that, there’s a good chance that you are dealing with some form of arthritis as you read this, but if not you, then you probably know someone dealing with the effects of arthritis. However, even though many people are familiar with the term, we find that people don’t fully understand arthritis and there are plenty of misconceptions surrounding it.
Arthritis can be broken up into two broad categories: inflammatory and degenerative. All types of arthritis involve inflammation of the joints because that is what the word literally means in Latin. Inflammatory arthritis are conditions that affect joints throughout the body. They are systemic diseases. The most common type of inflammatory arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis. Degenerative arthritis is also called osteoarthritis.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means the immune system attacks the joints, causing inflammation, pain, and stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis typically impacts the hands, wrists, and feet.
- Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease, which wears away at the cartilage, or cushioning, surrounding a healthy joint, causing bone spurs to develop and rub against one another, making movement painful, stiff, and causing inflammation. Osteoarthritis typically appears in weight-bearing joints such as the knees, hips, fingers, hands, neck, lower back, and ankles.
For the majority of this article, we are going to focus on osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of “wear-and-tear” arthritis, which refers to the way the disorder gradually breaks down cartilage, or the protective covers over the ends of our bones that allows for smooth and pain-free joint movement. This degenerative disease impacts nearly 27 million people across the United States. Although osteoarthritis can affect all demographics, it is most common in middle-aged to senior females. It is one of the top 5 reasons for visits to the doctor due to its knack to cause pain and disability. Any joint can develop arthritis, but osteoarthritis usually wreaks havoc in the weight bearing joints like your spine (especially the cervical and lumbar regions), knees, and hips. To show how common this is, think about this fact: there are approximately 700,000 knee replacements performed annually in the US!
One of the common misconceptions associated with arthritis is that arthritis is just due to aging. Aging plays a role, but arthritis and aging are not synonymous. There are many factors that play a part in the development of arthritis:
- Previous injuries: Post-traumatic arthritis is one of the most common causes of arthritis that we see in the office. Whether it is whiplash, a sports injury, a previous fracture/sprain/dislocation, there can be abnormal biomechanics created in the joint. When this aberrant motion is not corrected, it starts to wear the joint down. It is like driving a car out of alignment for 10 miles versus 10,000. Driving more miles with bad mechanics will wear down the tires, brakes, etc. The same is true of our joints!
- Illness or Infection: Some illnesses and infections can cause significant inflammation in the joints. These can be destructive to the joint and cause pain and dysfunction.
- Stress and Not Sleeping Well: Cytokines are messengers of the immune system that can be pro-inflammatory. In times of stress when our sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight stress response) is activated, cytokines increase. Sleep is a way our body turns off the sympathetic nervous system and activates our body’s healing processes. When we are in constant stress and are sleeping poorly, our body can be stuck in an inflammatory state and this can affect our joints leading to arthritis.
- Age: Age does play a role. As we get older, collagen in our connective tissue begins to shorten, and our joints do not move as well as they were designed to. This altered motion can have negative effects.
- Lack of Movement: There is a component of “use it or lose it.” When we do not move enough, our joints become stiffer and this can increase the likelihood for arthritis to develop. Motion is life, and motion takes place in the joints. The ultimate stiffness is rigor mortis, so stay active and make sure your joints are moving.
- Repetitive Overuse Stresses: Sitting, standing, bending, and lifting all take a toll on our joints. Consistent stresses being applied to our joints can break them down and lead to arthritis.
As chiropractors, we look at the whole body. However, we especially focus on the spine. There are very specific things that should be known about spinal arthritis. First is that arthritis in the spine is most common in the cervical/neck region or the lumbar/low back area. These areas are weight bearing and are sites where motion tends to be altered. Throughout the spine there are 53 joints and any of them can be affected. When any of the vertebra in the spine are misaligned, this can cause friction upon movement. Collagen and cartilage can break down and the discs and other parts of the joints can start to degenerate. Core stability and spinal compression are two other factors that affect the rate of degeneration in the spine. People with weak or inflexible cores will cause more stress and strain damage to the spine. Spinal compression in the forms of head weight, chest/breast weight, belly weight, and hip weight can also pull on the spine and wear it down. Gravity is constantly pushing us down, so when we have more weight on us, there effects of this compression is greater.
Since arthritis is a common problem in this country and leads to many doctor visits because of the pain and disability caused, it is worthwhile to look at the current treatments for these ailments. Currently, most of the treatment in this country for osteoarthritis is via the prescription of drugs. Percocets, darvocets, oxycontin, and Tylenol with codeine are four of the popular medications prescribed. Many of the drugs are opioids, which are a hot controversial topic due to their highly addictive properties. Even though the United States only makes up 5% of the world’s population, we consume 80% of the world’s opioid medications. About 40% of the opioid overdoses that occur are tied to opioid pain killers, and a big issue is that most of these people have their first contact with opioids from a prescription. The big disconnect for us at Radiant Life Chiropractic is that our society is trying to use pain killers and non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) for a structural problem. To our knowledge, there has yet to be a drug or chemical created to correct the structure or motion of a joint, and we believe that arthritis can be handled in a more natural way. The even better part is that there are things that you can do on your own to help yourself. There are also things that we can help you with to give you the best results to fight against the negative effects of arthritis!
Boiling it down to the simplest statement, the best way to combat the effects of arthritis is to change the way you eat, move your body, manage your stress, and get adjusted. Nutrition is a great place to start. So many people in the US eat very pro-inflammatory diets. We like our processed meats, grains, sugar, fried foods, dairy, and artificial sweeteners, but we need to get them out of our diets ASAP. Processed meats like deli meats and meats that are from animals that were grain-fed are not good. Look for grass-fed meats. We don’t want to consume meat from animals that did not eat their natural diet. Grains are inflammatory for many people because of the protein gluten in them. Gluten, especially when grain crops are treated with certain pesticides, can destroy your gut and cause systemic inflammation. Not good! We all know sugar is bad for us, but it is very addicting. Fried foods, especially foods fried in vegetable oils, are also very pro-inflammatory. Dairy and artificial sweeteners both cause problems in our bodies because they are not natural. Milk was intended for baby calves, not humans. Artificial sweeteners are artificial chemicals that our bodies do not recognize, and thus, they cause inflammatory reactions.
Now that you know what not to eat, it is also good to know what foods help heal our bodies. Green leafy vegetables are a great place to start. You cannot go wrong with them. Alkaline-based diets with foods like these are good to combat acid-based inflammation. Beets, broccoli, blueberries, kale and any other fruits or vegetables with lots of colors are a good choice too because they tend to be rich in antioxidants. Pineapples have an enzyme called bromelain which is a natural anti-inflammatory. Omega-3 fatty acids are also beneficial. You can get these in your diet from foods like well-sourced, wild-caught salmon and chia seeds. Coconut oil and its medium-chain triglycerides are beneficial to the body for inflammation. Finally, spices like turmeric and ginger are great to use while cooking to get their anti-inflammatory effects.
In addition to making dietary changes to help with arthritis, you can also battle arthritis by moving your body and exercising. Movement is medicine when it comes to your joints. There are so many benefits that someone with arthritis can get by exercising. First, when we move our joints, our proprioceptive nerves in our joints send lots of information back to the brain. Proprioception has to do with our brain knowing where our body is in space. When we flood the brain with nerve signals from our joints, it helps our brain refine our movement and our biomechanics can improve. This is good for the health of the joint. Movement of the joint also produces synovial fluid. Synovial fluid is the natural lubricant of the joint, so this is beneficial to help the joint move smoother with less friction. Finally, movement of the joints helps strengthen the muscles surrounding the joints which helps stabilize the joint. If you have arthritis and want to begin to exercise, it is always a good idea to start slowly. Focusing on non-weight-bearing range of motion for the joints that are arthritic is beneficial. For example, a recumbent bike for an arthritic knee might be better than going for a run. So, remember, do some mobility exercise to restore proper range of motion of the joint, strength exercise to improve the stability of the joint, and cardiovascular exercise to improve blood flow to the joint.
Making changes to your nutrition and exercise and finding a stress reliever that works for you can make big improvements in your arthritis symptoms. However, there are also things that we can help with at Radiant Life Chiropractic to help you get even better results! Chiropractic care can alleviate issues stemming from arthritis. Anything that moves can move out of alignment. When we don’t have proper alignment or movement of the bones in our spine (what we call a subluxation), this can lead to arthritis over time. When we look at the spine from the side, it should have three curves that help absorb the shock and compression from weight and gravity. Many times, we see people who lose the curve in their neck or low back or have an exaggerated curve in their upper back. When this happens, the spine is under a lot of additional stress and tension. Disc herniations can occur or bone spurs can develop. There is a law called Wolff’s Law that states that bone is laid down in response to stress. Due to a loss of proper motion, the body tries to lay down bone to stabilize an area that it feels is unstable and stressed. Bone spurs act similarly to rust in a hinge and prevent proper motion. They can also impinge nerves or cause narrowing, or stenosis, in the spinal canal. Our chiropractor uses methods to specifically analyze your spine and deliver gentle adjustments or utilize instruments to help restore proper alignment and motion in your spine. This not only helps with symptoms like pain, but it also prevents further arthritis from developing. We also adjust joints outside of the spine too. This includes knees, hips, ankles, shoulders, wrists, etc.
If you or a loved one are suffering from arthritis, there is hope. There are things that you can do to fight back against the negative effects of arthritis. If you have questions or need a little bit of guidance, schedule an appointment. We serve Hatboro, Warminster, Horsham, Warrington, Willow Grove and the surrounding communities in Bucks and Montgomery Counties and would love to see where you are and how we can best help you on the road to feeling and functioning better!