Guest Author - Carolyn Chambers Clark, RN, EdD
What is arthritis?
Arthritis means joint inflammation. The word comes from two Greek words, arthron, for joint, and itis for inflammation.
What are the most common forms of arthritis?
The most common forms of this disorder are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
*Osteoarthritis is a condition that causes the breakdown of cartilage in joints. This leads to pain and stiffness. It can affect any joint, but it usually occurs in the hips, knees, spine, fingers and toes. When it affects the big toe it's called gout. It rarely affects the wrists, elbows, shoulders, ankles, or jaw except as a result of injury or high stress. In healthy joints, a rubbery material called cartilage covers and protects the ends of bones and acts as a cushion or shock absorber. Arthritic joints usually hurt the most after overuse or long periods of inactivity.
Almost everyone over 60 has some X-ray evidence of osteoarthritis, but only a third have symptoms. Rheumatoid or inflammatory arthritis causes more serious health and financial problems, similar to coronary heart disease in lifetime costs for treatment.
*Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition, which means the body attacks itself.
This type of arthritis is also characterized by progressive joint pain, redness and swelling, often leading to deformity. It is also characterized by a long period of remission during which all symptoms subside.
What causes arthritis?
*long-term dehydration and malnutrition of the connective tissue between bones, muscles, disks, ligaments, and tendons, which acts as shock absorbers.
This is aggravated by increasing limitation of movement, increasing limits of flexibility and more stiffness.
Studies show that stress can precipitate the flare-up of rheumatoid symptoms. The important role of stress on immune function has become more evident in recent studies.
In one research report, almost every female patient interviewed reported an emotionally stressful event, often a personal or family relationship problem, prior to the beginning of joint pain.
Individuals reporting major life stressors showed greater next-day pain and that those with less social support showed more next-day mood disturbance.
* Lack of social support (from family and others) and a recent history of more major life stressors has been correlated with rheumatoid arthritis.
*Strong negative feelings have been correlated with arthritis and osteoarthritis in other studies.
Depression especially is related to elevations in pain for people with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, according to research reported in Psychosomatic Medicine.
Helplessness and depression were also significantly related to joint counts in rheumatoid arthritis in a study published in Arthritis Care Research.
*Another theory is that feeling unloved and full of criticism and resentment leads to arthritis.
This theory contends that the thoughts that are held and the words that are repeatedly used create our lives and experiences. If you change your thoughts, you can change the way you view your experience, and eventually, your experience itself.
*Sexual abuse. In a large study of 1,300 elderly white middle class study participants, arthritis was correlated for women with earlier sexual abuse.
*Nutritional factors may also play into whether arthritis develops or not.
Research published in Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology found that children suffering from juvenile arthritis have reduced serum levels or beta-carotene, retinol and zinc compared with health children.
Another study published in Epidemiology found that low selenium vitamin E status may be risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis.
Even meat was implicated in a study in the British Journal of Nutrition. The studymakers suggested that the fat, iron and nitrite in meat probably contribute to inflammation. More support for this theory is the fact that arthritis is rare in poorer countries where fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are staples. Research supports the connection between diet and arthritis, which for years was considered quackery. The Arthritis Foundation now considers a healthy diet an important factor.
This article is excerpted from THE AMERICAN HOLISTIC NURSES' ASSOCIATION GUIDE TO COMMON CHRONIC CONDITIONS: SELF-CARE OPTIONS TO COMPLEMENT YOUR DOCTOR'S ORDERS, John Wiley, 2003.