How do I manage arthritis?

Short answer: Arthritis is a complex joint disease that can be managed with the assistance of various clinicians, including your GP, physiotherapist and dietitian, who can assist you with various treatments and long term self-management.

Long answer:

Arthritis is not one disease but an umbrella term relating to over 150 conditions that affect the joints, muscles and bones of our bodies. If you have arthritis your joints are inflamed with discomfort and pain ranging from mild to severe. The disease can affect people of all ages and is estimated to affect nearly 4 million Australians including at least 6,000 children.

The 3 most common types of Arthritis diagnosed in Australia are:

· Osteoarthritis – Inflammation of one or more joints, including the hands, spine, knees and hips. It is the most common form of arthritis.

· Rheumatoid arthritis – A chronic autoimmune inflammatory disease that affects the joints resulting in pain, swelling and stiffness.

· Gout – A complex form of arthritis characterised by sudden, severe attacks of pain, swelling, redness and tenderness in the joints.

Other types of arthritis include:

· Juvenile arthritis – A group of conditions that cause joint pain and swelling in children and teens under the age of 16, usually of unknown origin.

· Ankylosing spondylitis – Affects the spine, causing inflammation and gradual fusing of the vertebrae.

· Systemic lupus erythematosus (Lupus) – An autoimmune disease, with manifestations including erosion of joints.

· Scleroderma – A complex autoimmune disease where symptoms can include joint pain and stiffness as well as hardening and tightening of skin and connective tissue.

While arthritis symptoms vary from person to person, it is common to experience joint pain and swelling, redness and heat, stiffness or reduced movement, as well as seemingly unrelated symptoms such as fatigue, weight change and feeling generally unwell.

Osteoarthritis is particularly susceptible to environmental causes such as repetitive movements of specific joints, previous damage through sporting injuries and weight issues which can add strain on the joints. Lack of physical activity and smoking are also strong risk factors for developing osteoarthritis.

The causes of many other types of arthritis aren’t fully known, but many forms of the disease are thought to be related to dysfunction of our immune system where the body attacks its own tissue, also known as an autoimmune disease.

In order to get an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment, it’s best you first see your GP who can organise scripts for required medications, referrals for bloods and diagnostic scans (X-ray, MRI, etc), or referrals as required to either an allied health (physio) or specialist (rheumatologist) clinician.

Living with arthritis may require adjustments to your life to assist you in the long term. You may need to obtain or modify household products and equipment to assist with daily tasks. However, most beneficial is the maintaining of a healthy lifestyle, starting with a balanced diet, managing alcohol consumption, and including regular exercise with a good fitness program. It may also be beneficial to seek psychological assistance for mental health concerns related to pain management or impaired mobility.

Arthritis may not have a cure but can be effectively managed to limit its impact on your daily life. Our practitioners at WLC Medical are happy to assist you with your arthritis management and other related concerns.

WLC Medical physiotherapist Adam Johnston and Advanced Deep Tissue remedial massage therapist Calum Johnston offer manual therapy and can work with you to establish an appropriate exercise management program. Our dietitian Andrea Kunneke can support you with nutritional advice and guidance, while our psychologist David Simich and counsellors at Belmont Counselling and Keystone Counselling within our premises can assist with the mental and emotional challenges that accompany chronic disease management.