How to Knock Out Arthritis Pain?
Arthritis is one of the most common chronic diseases worldwide; it can lead to several related health issues and has been reported to cause more deaths than HIV, melanoma, and asthma. According to Arthritis Research Canada, 6 million Canadians have arthritis, and associated medical expenses cost the economy around $33 billion per year.
Living with arthritis is not easy: it causes pain and inflammation and can give rise to a plethora of unpleasant consequences. Not only does it provoke inflammation, swelling, and stiffness, but it also may cause additional health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Severe arthritis can alter people’s lives in ways that span from restricted mobility to disability.
Arthritis is a chronic condition: this means there’s no cure, but only remedies to relieve the pain and calm the irritation. Treatments go from home remedies to medicaments and can significantly improve the lives of those who have arthritis. The use of supplements has proven to reduce pain and inflammation and is a promising ally to tackle arthritis symptoms.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a term that denotes a series of diseases and inflammation of joints (the points where two bones meet). It provokes the swelling of one (or more) of the joints and can affect almost any part of the body, but it involves especially the hips, the toes, the knees, and the spine.
There are over a hundred kinds of arthritis, each one with its own symptoms. The most common include swelling, pain, and stiffness; they can be mild initially, and you may feel them only after certain conditions. With time, symptoms can become more acute and cause chronic pain. Severe arthritis can lead to limited mobility, which results in the impossibility to perform some physical tasks or even to disability.
Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis (OA) are among the most common types of arthritis. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, approximately 4.1 billion Canadians have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, and around 400,000 Canadians live with rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is due to the wear-and-tear of the cartilage, the tissue covering the end of your bones to form a joint. The cartilage functions as a cushion to the bones: it’s essential for your locomotive system’s correct functioning as it allows your joints to move almost frictionless.
After traumas or inflammation, the cartilage may damage or wear, leading to direct contact of the bones. By grinding on each other, the bones rub: this is the primary source of pain. Broken cartilage doesn’t repair itself; the damage can worsen over time, making arthritis a chronic, degenerative condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
On the other side, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease (it occurs for a dysfunction of the immune system). When you have RA, your immune system mistakenly attacks your joints’ lining and provokes a deterioration of the surrounding tissue. As a consequence, the synovial fluid (which has the function of reducing friction) gets inflamed and releases chemicals that harm the bones, tendons, and ligaments. If not appropriately treated, rheumatoid arthritis can lead to bone erosion and joint deformity.
Arthritis consequences can have a detrimental impact on your daily life. It’s crucial, thus, to be able to recognize its symptoms and adopt suitable strategies to deal with them.
What causes arthritis?
In the past, scientists believed that some forms of arthritis (e.g., OA) were provoked by the wearing down of joints over time. Now they see arthritis as a disease: this means that people of all ages can have it, according to different causes, such as genetic factors or lifestyle.
Most of the time, you can act to prevent risk factors; in other cases (for example, immune system dysfunctions), there’s not much you can do about it.
Some of the most common risk agents include:
Cartilage deteriorates with age, leading to a series of consequences on your body. As a result of cartilage degradation, joints decrease their efficiency. Muscle tone and bone strength worsen, making physical tasks more difficult;
➢ Joint injury
If you have a joint injury (a break or a tear, for instance), the probability you can develop arthritis increases. The disease can also appear years after you got the injury, as a consequence of the overuse;
If you use the same joints over and over — in your job or during sport — you can damage them. In fact, you apply repetitive stress to the same point and weaken it;
Obesity and overweight put extra stress on joints — in particular, knees and hips, which wear a great amount of our body weight. Furthermore, fat cells improve inflammation;
There’s evidence that smoking increases the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis;
There’s some evidence that certain types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can be hereditary (even though genes play a smaller role in increasing the risk than other factors);
➢ Sex - Women
Women are more likely to develop some types of arthritis than men.
What are the symptoms of arthritis?
The symptoms you experience may vary according to the type of arthritis. Common symptoms include joint pain and stiffness, inflammation, and difficulty moving.It’s important to recognize those symptoms as soon as possible, so that you can consult a specialist for a health checkup. You should go to your doctor if you experience joint pain or stiffness that won’t go away with time.
Here are some of the most frequent signs and symptoms you have (or may develop) arthritis:
You experience joint pain during movement. The pain can get strong, persistent, and long-lasting. You can feel it also after a prolonged activity or at the end of the day;
Joint stiffness is one of the most frequent symptoms related to arthritis. In general, it happens after you’ve been inactive for a while (for example, when you wake up in the morning);
If you apply pressure to the joint (or near it), you may notice tenderness
➢ Loss of flexibility
Your joint might lower its range of motion, thus becoming more rigid;
➢ Grating sensation
Your joint might be grating, and you might hear a popping or cracking sound when it bends;
You may have some swelling around the joint, caused by soft tissue inflammation;
➢ Joint instability or buckling
A typical example occurs when your knee gives out as you’re walking.
How to diagnose arthritis?
The first step to tell if it is arthritis is to identify one or more symptoms among the ones discussed above. Arthritis may affect you in different ways, and there isn’t a unique method to recognize it. How your organism reacts depends on many factors, such as your age or your overall physical condition.
You may experience pain in your knee or thigh, or you may feel scraping when you move the knees. In other cases, your fingers or toes may swell and inflame. If you suspect you have arthritis, a medical checkup of your symptoms is the first and essential step to make a diagnosis.
The doctor’s examination would look for swelling or redness, examine your joint function and its range of motion, and test your reflexes. Blood tests to check for antibodies or X-ray analysis can complement the visit. With the X-ray analysis, you’ll be able to check if your joint or bone are damaged or if there are any changes that you can attribute to arthritis. You can also do Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to better analyze the cartilage and the joint.
Arthritis pain and its risks
Once you’re diagnosed with arthritis, what comes next? As we’ve already said, arthritis is a chronic condition, and there isn’t a cure. But there are several treatments and healthy practices that help you deal with pain, which can be heavy and persistent.
Due to the constant ache, you might not be able to do physical activity, experience sleep problems, or even have depression. Besides the pain, the risks of arthritis span over a wide range of different problems. Your body can be prone to fracture (as your movements are limited and the joints debilitate, your muscles get weaker). The pain can be so strong that you aren’t able to exercise. Lack of exercise, in turn, increases the risk of obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Some types of arthritis (like RA) are associated with a higher risk of developing osteoporosis, infections (medications and the disease itself weaken the immune system), or carpal tunnel syndrome. In the most severe cases, you can have heart problems, lung diseases, or lymphoma.
Arthritis is a chronic disease: once cartilage breaks down, it doesn’t grow back. So, how to tackle it? Treatments for arthritis include medications and supplements and several remedies to alleviate pain and inflammation.
Treatment for arthritis
The most effective way to deal and cope up with arthritis symptoms and slow down its progression is to combine healthy practices with proper medical treatment. What do you need to knock out pain? Let’s break it down.
Medications for arthritis
There are different medications that you can use for arthritis treatment, and each has a specific effect. Here are some of the most common:
Analgesics are pain relievers: their main function is to alleviate the pain. Acetaminophen is the most used for arthritis. Being an over-the-counter medication, you can easily get it. To use opioids, which are much stronger than common analgesics, you need a doctor’s prescription.
➢ Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
NSAIDs are analgesics with anti-inflammatory action. Some of them (aspirin, ibuprofen) don’t need a prescription. You can experience their beneficial effects after a couple of hours or, in some cases, you need to wait for more (but not more than two or three days).
They’re a class of molecules that lower inflammation and reduce immune system activity. You can either take it by mouth in a form of tablet or capsule, or inject them into the joint. Corticosteroids relieve swelling, itching, and redness. They’re available only under prescription.
➢ Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
These drugs are often used in RA treatment as they block your immune system’s response. Their action slows RA’s progress and can have a significant impact in the early course of the disease.
In general, you should take medications until your symptoms have improved or stopped. You can take them regularly over the years, every time you feel pain or discomfort. They’re an effective tool to reduce ache and inflammation.
Physical activity is essential for a healthier life: exercise helps you reduce your body weight, improves your heart conditions, and fosters relaxation and mental well-being. In the frame of arthritis, exercise is crucial because it strengthens the muscles, increases joint flexibility, reduces stiffness, and improves posture and balance.
If you have arthritis, most of the time, you may have troubles moving some parts of your body. In these cases, mild sports activities that involve gentle movements are the best ally for your health. Swimming, walking, yoga, or tai chi are among the best sports you can do if you have arthritis. They reinforce your muscles and bones and improve the health of the heart and lungs. Yoga and tai chi realign your body, support flexibility, and improve your balance.
Remember to take care of your joints when you do any physical activity: warm-up before exercise, cool down when you finish, and use adequate gear to protect your joints.
Hot or cold treatments
To alleviate arthritis pain, you can also apply hot or cold packs.
➢ Heat treatments — like placing a heating pad or warm paraffin wax to the joint or only taking a long shower — reduce stiffness and improve blood circulation.
➢ Cold treatments can help remove inflammation and swelling, as they slow circulation and reduce pain related to swelling. To do cold treatments, use a cold pack or some ice wrapped in a towel (never apply ice directly).
We are what we eat. Most of the time, you can improve your physical condition with changes in your daily diet.
To tackle arthritis, introduce more omega-3, vitamins, antioxidants, and fibers in your diet. These nutrients improve your immune system and help to reduce inflammation. On the other side, avoid red meat, processed food, salt, and sugar: they can worsen the irritation, make you gain weight, and increase your cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Adopting a balanced diet is crucial as it helps you lose weight, thus wiping out detrimental pressure on your joints.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle
Last but not least, adopting an overall healthy lifestyle is an essential habit if you want to deal with arthritis pain. Adopting sane conduct implies:
➢ Avoid smoking (as said above, smoking can increase the risk of rheumatoid arthritis);
➢ Get enough sleep: it’s essential to improve your pain tolerance;
➢ Adopt relaxing practices, such as meditation. They enhance your physical and mental well-being and improve your immune system, besides helping you get high-quality sleep.
The benefits of supplements to knock out arthritis pain
In the latest year, several supplements have proved to reduce pain, stiffness, and other symptoms of arthritis. Most of these molecules have analgesic properties and act to reduce inflammation. What are the most popular supplements, and how do they work to tackle arthritis pain?
Most popular supplements to tackle arthritis pain
➢ S-adenosyl-methionine (SAM-e)
That’s a molecule with promising features: it has anti-inflammatory properties, can protect cartilage and stimulate its growth, and has moderate antidepressant effects too.
➢ EPA and DHA
These omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties. Studies showed the use of omega-3 fatty acids reduce joint pain and stiffness. They have almost no contraindication and the body tolerates them very well.
➢ Boswellia serrata extract
Besides the analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, which help reduce arthritis pain, this natural extract may help prevent cartilage loss;
Capsaicin belongs to the counterirritants family: these substances create inflammation in a part of the body to lessen the joints’ pain. It’s usually applied as a cream and works quite well to relieve pain;
The basic component of turmeric, it reduces joint pain and swelling by blocking inflammatory enzymes;
➢ Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA)
Our bodies convert this omega-6 fatty acid into anti-inflammatory molecules. As EPA and DHA, it is well tolerated by the organism;
These molecules are still under massive research, and the FDA hasn’t approved their therapeutic use yet, but they have some encouraging properties: they’re analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and can also reduce anxiety and improve sleep.
➢ Collagen support supplements
Collagen supplements are the most recent discovery about arthritis treatment. They have shown promising features, as they seem to reduce pain and inflammation. What do collagen supplements look like, and how do they work?
Collagen is considered the most abundant animal protein in our bodies. It makes up our connective tissue, and it is located mostly in tendons, joints, and ligaments. It also contributes to making our skin look shiny, bright, and young. With aging, our bodies produce far less collagen. A deficiency can lead to joint problems (as well as wrinkles and sagging skin). Having an adequate level of collagen in your body is vital for your joints’ health.
Supplements act by giving you an extra collagen boost. Collagen is a molecule with a huge structure, thus it is difficult to digest. In supplements, it’s most often “predigested” into its basic components and hydrolyzed (the molecules are broken down to smaller portions) to favor its absorption. The main advantage of supplements is that collagen is much easier to absorb than the one you introduce with nutrition.
So far, research has shown that collagen supplements:
➢ Help quality of life of people with osteoarthritis;
➢ Enhance joint mobility and therefore the physical activity of people with osteoarthritis;
➢ Prevents joint pain in athletes.
While some research demonstrated that collagen supplements could help pain relief in osteoarthritis, there isn’t evidence they can help grow or repair cartilage.
There is plenty of information on the web that you may easily get lost. Are collagen supplements effective for your body? Like with everything, they’re beneficial if you follow prescriptions and guidelines. As they’re a recent product, with a few trials and little medical history, there isn’t a specified dose that works universally. This makes it hard to establish a reproducible protocol.
On the other side, collagen supplements can have some side effects. The most common include gastrointestinal problems (heartburn, nausea, fullness) and an unpleasant taste in the mouth. If you extract collagen from a food source that may cause allergies (like eggs or shellfish), there’s the risk of having some allergic reactions too.
As soon as you experience any unpleasant effect that you can relate to supplements, you should stop taking them. If the symptoms cease or get mild, you can retake them, starting with smaller doses.
As the FDA hasn’t approved collagen supplements, you need to take them carefully and follow some basic guidelines:
➢ Take small doses (10 mg per day);
➢ Buy plant-based supplements if you’re vegan or vegetarian;
➢ Blend them into a smoothie or a drink.
Dealing with arthritis pain for a better quality of life
Living with arthritis can make life hard. Pain, inflammation, and hardness of movements can alter your routine, make you feel tired and depressed, and even lead you to disability. It’s crucial, therefore, to adopt healthy practices to prevent the outbreak of this chronic, degenerative disease. As soon as you experience some symptoms that you can relate to arthritis, consult a specialist to make a diagnosis.
If you’re dealing with severe arthritis pain, don’t let your condition discourage you. Hot or cold packs and gentle physical exercise can help you to deal with arthritis pain. Medication and supplements (like omega-3 fatty acids, capsaicin, collagen supplements) are a powerful ally to slow down arthritis progression and improve the quality of your life. Before taking any medications or supplements, you should consult your doctor to know how you can optimize their effect.
Living with arthritis can be daunting, but it’s still possible to enjoy an active and happy life with care, attention, and focused therapy.