Arthritis is a name for a group of conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system specifically the joints (where two or more bones meet). There are over 100 forms of arthritis, each affecting the joints in different ways. The most common forms of arthritis include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Persistent pain
- Swelling or inflammation in a joint
- Warmth and/or redness in a joint
- Generalised symptoms such as feeling unwell and fatigued.
Current statistics indicate that in Australia, 1 in every 6 people will have some form of arthritis.
Diagnosing arthritis involves both a detailed history and medical examination. This will include looking at the patients:
- General health history
- Family history
- Undertaking / conducting a physical examination.
Other tools used to diagnose arthritis include imaging tests such as X-rays / ultrasound/ MRI / CT Scans that will help identify any signs of inflammation, erosion or other signs of joint distress, but may not be necessary in all cases.
There is no cure for arthritis, unfortunately, but with the correct diagnosis, treatment can prove effective at controlling the symptoms therefore reducing pain associated with this chronic condition.
Management options include:
- Pharmacology: Common pain medications such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatory medications can usually prove effective in reducing symptoms/pain associated with arthritis, although for some patients, other medications may also be used to manage the symptoms. These medications include Methotrexate, Prednisolone, Pregabalin (Lyrica) or Allopurinol. The type of arthritis will determine the best medications that may be prescribed.
- Exercise Physiotherapy: One of the most beneficial ways you can manage arthritis is to keep moving and keep active. The old saying “use it or lose it” is very relevant to patients diagnosed with arthritis. And with a pain management plan in conjunction with your pain specialist, control over your symptoms will follow. Participation in regular physical activity has been shown to improve mobility and flexibility of joints, improve muscle strength and improve posture and balance, as well as decreasing pain, fatigue and muscle tension/stress. Working together with an exercise physiotherapist, who specialises in chronic pain, will ensure you start slow and steady and work your way up as your strength and ability increases as well as recommending the type of exercise for example low impact including water exercises. Your pain specialist can recommend a trained exercise physiotherapist.
- Lifestyle Factors: Getting enough sleep, reducing caffeine intake and having a routine for sleep and waking up is also important. Eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of Omega-3 fats (such as oily fish, fish oil supplements, linseed or linseed oil, canola oil and walnuts) has also been shown in research to help ease the symptoms of arthritis by helping to naturally reduce inflammation. In addition, drinking green tea regularly has also been shown in some research to help naturally reduce inflammation. Maintaining a healthy weight may also improves the symptoms of arthritis. It is also highly recommended that if a patient diagnosed with arthritis is smoking, they work with their GP on quitting as this will have an impact on the pain a person experiences (Studies have shown that patients who smoke will report higher levels of pain compared to those who are non-smokers). Together with other treatment options, lifestyle factors can help reduce the pain and associated symptoms of arthritis.
- Psychological Support: Anxiety and depression are common in people living with arthritis. Along with negative thoughts and emotions, stresses on relationships include personal and friendships, together with the financial impacts of arthritis, can all have an impact on your mental wellbeing. A referral to a trained pain psychologist may be recommended by your pain specialist to help deal with the issues that come with chronic arthritis, as well as helping you to manage stress and plan and pace activities so there is a balance between activity and rest.
- Interventional Procedures: Your pain specialist may recommend interventional procedures that will be aimed at controlling the symptoms of your arthritis. These may include Etanercept injections, Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injections, local anaesthetic and steroid injections, as well as nerve ablation treatment such as radiofrequency neurotomy (heat treatment of the nerve designed to provide pain relief for a period of 9-15 months). Not all patients will have interventional procedures recommended as part of their pain management plan.
It is important to note that arthritis affects people in different ways and one person’s response to treatment will be different from another person’s. Your pain specialist will work out a plan on how best to treat you and your symptoms.
**This information sheet has been written for patients affected by arthritis and provides general information only**
References: Musculoskeletal Australia; Arthritis Foundation; Arthritis Australia; Pain Australia.