The human skeleton is an architectural gem. No man-made structure operates with such fluidity, precision and grace. It is devastating, then, when the joints of the human body begin to deteriorate. Simple tasks such as flexing a hand or reaching up with the arm become painful and nearly impossible. Arthritis is a persistent and widespread ailment affecting hundreds of thousands of people in this country. Many who suffer from arthritis assume that this affliction is untreatable and must be suffered through for life. There are, however, answers and solutions to this painful disorder.
Affecting over thirty million people in the United States alone, arthritis is the most common disability in this country. The joints in the human skeleton are protected by a cushioning substance known as cartilage. This substance allows the joints to move freely and smoothly. Arthritis breaks down this substance, causing bones to rub painfully against one another at the joints. Arthritis does not discriminate amongst genders or ages, affecting men and women throughout all stages of life.
Before symptoms even begin to appear, there are several risk factors which can provide an indication that one is predisposed to arthritis. An overweight or obese person is far more likely to develop arthritis than an individual with a healthy weight. Other risk factors may include an injury to a particular joint, especially if that injury is not allowed to adequately heal, and consistent use of a particular joint in sports, work or recreation. Individuals who are exposed to these risks should be vigilantly aware of the signs of arthritis. Symptoms of arthritis include joint pain or discomfort, stiffness, swelling, redness or warmth around the affected joint, or decreased range of motion. Individuals experiencing these symptoms should immediately consult a physician.
A physician will perform a rigorous physical examination that will include questions about a patient’s family, physical, and occupational history. With these questions, the physician can often determine if arthritis is present and what is its most likely cause. Obesity, genetic history, injury, infection and occupation are the most common causes of arthritis. Further tests may be required to achieve an accurate diagnosis. The bones may be x-rayed, range of motion tested through physical exercises, or fluid drawn from the joints and examined in a laboratory. These tests will assist the physician in providing the best diagnosis.
The treatments for arthritis are widely varied due to the numerous causes and types of arthritis. Physicians will evaluate the cause as well as the lifestyle and age of the patient when determining an appropriate plan for treatment. Ideally, the treatment will first address the issue that is causing the arthritis. Further treatment will focus on eliminating the pain and discomfort. Exercise, rest and diet are the most common treatments. Slow-paced, methodical exercise will increase range of motion and strengthen joints. Rest, however, is equally important as it gives the inflamed joints an opportunity to heal. Many physicians will recommend a high-vitamin diet with special focus on antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients. It is possible, however, that these treatments will not eliminate the pain. In these cases, physicians may recommend a variety of over the counter or prescription pain medications such as acetaminophen or aspirin. Physicians will thoroughly explain the various side effects and hazards associated with any medication. Doctors may also opt to try various injection treatments such as steroids or immune-system repressing drugs in serious cases of arthritis.
The first tip given by almost any physician to an arthritis sufferer is to lose weight. The human skeletal structure is not meant to carry an obese person’s weight and the extra pounds put unnecessary strain on the joints and bones. Losing weight can often drastically reduce pain, inflammation and discomfort. Doctors also recommend reducing stress with meditation and calming aerobic exercises. If certain daily tasks aggravate a patient’s condition, these tasks should be avoided or made simpler. A stepstool in the kitchen or a handlebar in the bath tub can assist sufferers of arthritis in completing painful tasks. Finally, eat a healthy, varied diet and remain active all year round.
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