At some point, this is a condition we are all likely to experience. It is the wear-and-tear problem that we are seeing more and more of as we live longer and our bodies start to wear out. While the changes that occur are irreversible, Chiropractic has a strong role to play in reducing their effect on your day to day life and keeping you as active as possible.
Osteoarthritis is a process which takes place as our bodies start to wear out through overuse or simple age. It generally affects the bigger, weight bearing joints such as knees and hips, but is commonly also seen in fingers and thumbs. Another victim to this all-rounder disease is the spine. Modern medicine has developed to the point where we can now whip out some of the joints affected, such as hips and knees, and replace them with shiny new ones but this is clearly never going to possible in all areas.
In general, the process involves the drying out of cartilage, the shrinking of joint space and the laying down of new bone around the joint in an effort by your body to stabilise the joint. This technique works beautifully – there’s no doubt that the joints end up more stable, it’s just that this doesn’t help much with your ability to move around, pick things up and generally get on with your life! The inflammation which occurs around the joints mean it can also be extremely painful.
Although arthritis of this sort is usually associated with old age, it can affect people of almost any age, depending on what they have been doing in their life and any injuries sustained. If you have ever broken a bone, and the break interrupted the end of the bone where it forms a joint, the chances are that joint will develop arthritis earlier than you would otherwise expect. Similarly, injuries such as whiplash frequently lead to early-onset degenerative changes in your neck. Occupation can have a big impact on the development of osteoarthritis as well; if you spend a lot of time on your feet, carrying heavy loads, then your hips and knees may well pay the price much earlier than if you had a more sedentary occupation. Even being a Chiropractor doesn’t exclude you from developing problems – we tend to end up completely knackering our hands much faster than other people, particularly our thumbs!
So what can we do about it? Well, clearly once the changes such as degeneration of the cartilage and additional bone being laid down have taken place, there’s nothing that can be done to reverse that change. It’s happened. But that doesn’t mean you are doomed to a life of pain and stiffness! Far from it. Chiropractic will aim to give you as much movement as possible in the joints through a combination of adjustments, and a technique known as joint distraction where the two halves of a joint are gently pressured away from each other, literally producing a greater gap in the joint and relieving the pressure. Soft tissue work also comes into its own in cases of osteoarthritis. The muscles tend to become quite tight around the joints that are affected, as they are trying to protect it from painful movement. Unfortunately, this actually makes the joint stiffer and hastens the degeneration of the situation. So your Chiropractor will work with the soft tissue, easing out any tension and making sure your joints have the freedom to move as much as they possibly can.
As this is management, rather than cure, you may decide you wish to come in for regular appointments, just to keep yourself ticking over. As a rule, here at Shifnal Chiropractic we aim to give you the tools to take control of your own health, so that you can manage without having to come in for treatment more than you have to. The nature of osteoarthritis makes this harder – of course, there are still stretches, exercises and lifestyle options that we will recommend to you to try and help as much as possible, but it often does help in this situation if you call in once every few months or so just to get everything loosened off again. This is entirely up to you, however – you will never be pressured into coming once every 3 months, or even once a year, but the option is there for you should you wish to take it.
As I say, Chiropractic is extremely effective at helping reduce the effects of osteoarthritis on your activities of daily living, but there are also things you can be doing for yourself. For one thing, gentle exercise is going to be a superb way of both keeping your joints supple and making sure you stay at peak cardiovascular fitness as well. The best ways of achieving this is through walking or swimming. Walking is comparatively low impact, so it is unlikely to stress the joints further, but it still gets the blood pumping and most importantly it gets your joints moving. Swimming is excellent for the same reasons – it is zero impact, but great cardiovascular exercise. Movement is key – if you think about it, a lot of people who suffer with osteoarthritis comment that after sitting down for 20 minutes or so they “set”. It’s then worse to try and get moving again than it would be if they had just stayed gently moving around. Obviously, you can’t move around twenty-four hours a day, but the more movement you do manage to fit in the less of a problem you will have once you stop.
Factors such as diet and supplements have also been suggested as beneficial areas to address. It has been suggested that certain foods are capable of reducing the painful inflammation around the joints. Foods such as broccoli, blueberries, salmon and walnuts have all been suggested as foods effective in reducing inflammation, while processed foods, high sugar content or foods containing solanine (such as tomatoes) are all thought to increase inflammation. Supplementing your diet with chondroitin or glucosamine can also be effective – it doesn’t help everyone, but it’s worth a try and they are widely available at your local chemist or supermarket.
Osteoarthritis, then, is a degenerative condition of wear and tear to the joints which is best managed by a healthy diet, gentle exercise and Chiropractic treatment to help improve the mobility