Understanding Arthritis

If you are reading this blog, you are probably one of the 915,00 people who is living with arthritis in Ireland every day. Unfortunately, you may be all too aware that arthritis is known to be a very debilitating condition, often leading to difficulties with mobility and challenges doing your day-to-day activities.

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Although there is no cure for arthritis, good management of arthritis is essential to maintain function and prevent further damage. There are many medical and therapy treatments available to help you manage your arthritis, so talk to your doctor or health care provider for advice. Sometimes the first step to managing better is developing your understanding. Today we will learn a little more about what arthritis is and how it affects you. Our next blog will focus on how you can optimise the management of your arthritis.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a condition which affects your joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons and causes inflammation and pain. There are over 100 different forms of arthritis, each of which has their own unique symptoms. Why some people develop arthritis and not others, remains poorly understood, and research is ongoing. 

What we do know about arthritis, is that it can: 

1) Be degenerative – arthritis caused by prolonged wear and tear breakdown. Example: osteoarthritis.  

2) Be inflammatory – arthritis caused by problems with the immune system and inflammation. Example: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Polymyalgia rheumatica, Psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis

 Christina O'Connor, MSK Physiotherapist, Strive Clinic galway

Christina O'Connor, MSK Physiotherapist, Strive Clinic galway

3) Affect other parts of your body - Not all forms of arthritis just affect your joints. Some types of arthritis can affect your whole body, for example, fibromyalgia, lupus.  

4) Affect people of all ages – Risk factors do include getting older. However, arthritis can affect people of all ages and stages of life. For example, 1 in every 1,000 children in Ireland has arthritis. This is called juvenile arthritis

What are the most common types and how do they affect me?

Osteoarthritis (OA)

OA causes a slow “degeneration” (wear and tear) within the joint, which wears away the cartilage, (a protective cushioning that covers the top of the bone). The cartilage can gradually get worn down so much that the bones become exposed and rub off each other. This damage causes an inflammatory response within the joint capsule, which causes the joints to swell up and become painful. Over time, this process can lead to the bones becoming thick and knobbly, at which point, it is usually less painful, but permanent damage has occurred to the joint structure, e.g. developing Bouchards nodes, Heberdens nodes on your fingers.

Fast Facts!

  • OA develops gradually over a long period of time.
  • It can affect any joint in the body, and often affects many joints.
  • It is not fully understood why some people develop osteoarthritis, but it is often due to the aging process, previous injury to the joint, obesity and can also run in families.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

RA is an “Inflammatory” form of arthritis: it is an autoimmune disease where your body’s immune system – which normally protects you by attacking foreign threats like bacteria mistakenly attacks your “healthy” joints. This causes an inflammation response and results in swelling and pain in and around your joints. Over time, this inflammation process can damage the bones, cartilage and the elastic tissue (ligaments) that covers the ends of the bones of the joint resulting in the joints becoming loose, stiff or deformed.

Fast Facts!

  • RA most commonly affects the joints in your elbows, wrists, hands, knees, ankles, and feet. More than one joint will always be affected at any given time.
  • RA can also affect your organs and body systems such as your skin (developing nodules, rashes), Blood vessels - inflammation of blood vessels- (vasculitis), eyes (problems with dryness, inflammation, pain, redness, blurred vision), lungs (inflammation and scarring can occur over time for some people) etc.
  • Symptoms can come and go. A flare occurs during periods of high disease activity and inflammation. You may feel generally quite unwell during a flare and even have a high temperature. A flare can last for days or months.
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Fibromyalgia

Instead of problems within the joints, fibromyalgia causes widespread musculoskeletal pain and aching in any part of your body, affecting your muscles, ligaments and tendons. This pain is also often accompanied by significant fatigue, sleep disturbance, memory and concentration problems and mood issues.

Fast Facts!

  • Fibromyalgia can be more common in women than in men.
  • Fibromyalgia can often co-exist with tension headaches, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression, Interstitial cystitis or painful bladder syndrome and migraine.
  • The cause is unknown, though research indicates some links with genetics (can run in families), physical or emotional trauma and some infections.
  • It may affect one part of your body or several different areas at once.

Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR)

PMR is another inflammatory type of arthritis. It typically affects the muscles of your shoulder, upper arms, buttocks, and thighs but can affect any muscle in the body. The joints are usually not involved, but occasionally the joints around the affected areas such as your shoulder or hips may become painful. 

 kimberley clarke, occupational therapist, strive clinic galway

kimberley clarke, occupational therapist, strive clinic galway

Fast Facts!

  • The pain and stiffness is often at its worst in the morning, easing throughout the day and returning in severity in the late evening
  • The pain can often increase with rest and decrease with activity (unlike other forms of arthritis & joint pain).
  • PMR usually strikes suddenly, appearing over a week or two.
  •  It is more common in women.

Managing Arthritis

Although there is no cure for arthritis, good management of arthritis is essential to maintain function, prevent further damage and promote good quality of life. This often involves seeking advice and support from various health care professionals, who specialise in arthritis management (an interdisciplinary approach). There are many medical and therapy treatments available to help you to manage your arthritis, so do ask your health care provider for advice.

  An interdisciplinary approach to your care at Strive Clinic

An interdisciplinary approach to your care at Strive Clinic

For example, your treatment may often consist of a combination of:

  • Medical and medication management
  • Physiotherapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Psychotherapy

Our next blog will look at how these health care professionals can help you manage your arthritis day-to-day so that you can live your life to the full!


How We Can Help

At Strive Clinic, we offer Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy services, a specialised area of physiotherapy that deals with the assessment and treatment of injuries and disorders of soft tissue structures such as muscles, tendons, ligaments as well as joint problems.