Arthritis versus osteoarthritis ? | 2 natural treatments to help with your pain
Having arthritis or osteoarthritis means living with the unfair feeling that your body is aging much faster than you are. The pain, aches, and feelings of hopelessness are part of your everyday life. And that's doubly unfair.
Arthritis affects 6 million people in Canada. It is estimated that this number will increase to 9 million by 2040. In Quebec, 20% of the adult population reports having arthritis.
While the risk of having minor sores increases as you age, joint pain should never be considered « normal,» regardless of age.
Contrary to what you might think, arthritis and osteoarthritis are not inevitable parts of aging.
What is the difference between arthritis and osteoarthritis?
Very simply: arthritis is a family of diseases, and osteoarthritis is the most common type.
More formally, the Arthritis Society Canada explains that they are both inflammatory and non-inflammatory disorders of the joints.
Inflammation is a natural defense process that the body puts in place when it is under attack. Swelling, heat, redness, and pain are signs of inflammation.
Arthritis encompasses hundreds of conditions affecting bones, muscles, and joints. Examples include Osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout, to name a few.
The case of osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis (OA), also called arthrosis, is the most common joint disease in North America. Today, it affects 1 in 7 Canadians. This number is expected to continue to increase as the population ages. In most cases, osteoarthritis occurs after the age of 45. However, it can occur at any time.
It is a degenerative disorder that slowly attacks the joints. The disease causes the breakdown of cartilage and bone. Cartilage is a flexible tissue covering and protecting the bone.
Most often, osteoarthritis affects the hands and weight-bearing joints such as the hips, knees, ankles, and spine.
Osteoarthritis sets in slowly when the body cannot repair joint tissues damaged by normal wear and tear or by injury.
Are you prone to osteoarthritis?
The risk of developing osteoarthritis increases as we age. However, the breakdown of joint cartilage can begin as early as age 20 or 30.
Generally, people with osteoarthritis do not experience symptoms until they are 50 or 60 years old. X-rays of more than half of all older people show signs of osteoarthritis.
Before the age of 50, men are more often affected by osteoarthritis than women. After age 55, the reverse is true. Hormonal changes during menopause are thought to be responsible for this statistic.
Other things you may have some control over, such as being overweight, contribute to osteoarthritis of the knee and hip.
People who have torn their anterior cruciate ligaments in the knee and those who have to kneel a lot at work are more likely to develop OA.
Certain genetic factors also seem to play an essential role in the development of the disease.
Signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is not associated with manifestations such as fever or fatigue (not to be confused with the psychological exhaustion often present in cases of osteoarthritis). This detail is important. It allows us to differentiate osteoarthritis from other types of diseases in the arthritis family.
The signs of OA range from mild discomfort to significant physical disability. The main reason people with OA seek help is pain.
Aside from being in pain, there are several other symptoms associated with osteoarthritis:
- Difficulty with movement (or loss of range of motion)
- Local swelling and redness
- Stiffness in the joint, mainly in the first 30 minutes after waking up
- Insomnia due to pain
- When the disease is advanced, deformities may appear in the affected joints (Swan-Neck deformity in the hands)
- Crepitus of the joint (squeaking sensation caused by the presence of cartilage particles)
- Pain is more pronounced on bad weather days (during bad weather, the drop in atmospheric pressure can intensify the pain)
Diagnosis of osteoarthritis: where to start
Since Osteoarthritis cannot be cured, treatments focus on relieving pain, reducing inflammation, and maintaining and improving the condition of the joint.
Specific changes in your lifestyle become the foundation of osteoarthritis management. These must be maintained over the long term.
If you have osteoarthritis, you need to find the balance of rest and activity that works best for you.
During times of pain or inflammation, you should rest the affected joint. This break should not be too long either because of the risk of stiffness caused by inactivity (hence the importance of finding your balance).
If you are overweight or obese, losing those extra pounds is essential. It contributes to the deterioration of your joints.
Physical activity (again, based on the balance we just discussed) is essential in the treatment of Osteoarthritis. Aerobic and range of motion exercises are beneficial for many individuals.
Complementary approaches such as acupuncture, yoga, massage therapy, mental imagery, and therapeutic touch also help to reduce joint pain.
Also, it is underestimated how the alternating application of heat and cold can help reduce pain. Thermotherapy (heating pads, hydrotherapy, ultrasound) is beneficial in cases of Osteoarthritis.
Two natural treatments for pain caused by osteoarthritis
Eucalyptus and menthol to relieve osteoarthritis
Over-the-counter products that contain eucalyptus oil and menthol can provide temporary, local pain relief.
These herbal extracts are incorporated into creams and provide an initial cooling (or refreshing) sensation. They work by stimulating nerve endings and masking the pain signals that neurons send to the brain.
In the early stages of the disease, balms and creams with eucalyptus oil and menthol can help soothe mild pain.
Glucosamine sulfate to improve loss of mobility caused by osteoarthritis
The use of glucosamine in treating mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis is based on the results of rigorous studies. Its use in the general treatment of Osteoarthritis also appears to be beneficial.
Be aware that the results are for glucosamine sulfate. Glucosamine hydrochloride-based preparations are not conclusive in the treatment of Osteoarthritis.
Glucosamine sulfate is manufactured in the laboratory from the shells of crustaceans such as shrimp. Glucosamine hydrochloride has the advantage of being vegan, but its effectiveness remains to be proven.
Glucosamine is available over the counter here. Always make sure you choose a quality product approved by Health Canada and labeled « glucosamine sulfate » for best results. You may not notice an improvement until several weeks after taking the supplement.
Conclusion: Living with Osteoarthritis
Living with a chronic, incurable disease is special. The physical, psychological, and social suffering associated with it should never be underestimated.
Your loved ones remain your first line of support daily. However, professional help may be beneficial or necessary when the diagnosis is announced or the disease progresses.
Do not remain alone with your suffering. Don't hesitate to ask for help from your local community service center or join a support network like the Arthritis Society Canada.
Sending healthy thoughts your way,
Adrien Gagnon Team