Beating Back Arthritis Pain
(August 9, 2016)
Before I start dispensing today’s priceless pearls of wisdom, there is one point I want to make again. And that is this. When you hurt somewhere and you get an x-ray done of that place, and then the doctor points to it and intones “arthritis”, you should not freak out, even a little.
Those funny-looking changes on the x-ray don't mean that you are doomed to a life of pain. They simply show that, at one time or another, your body repaired some damage there. A repaired joint does not look like quite it did before. It looks a little weirder, but then, don't we all?
When you see those x-ray changes that are themselves referred to in the doctor biz as "arthritis" or "osteoarthritis" (the same words we use to describe the pain you're having, thus thoroughly confusing you), it just means that at one time or another in the past there WAS inflammation there and your body fixed it. If it doesn't hurt now, the inflammation is GONE. The x-ray signs remain after the inflammation is gone, like a scar does on your skin.
If we took x-rays of every joint in your body, you’d see that there are other places that look a little scary. Places that do not now hurt. They don’t hurt because your body is satisfied with how it fixed that area, and ended the inflammatory process. If you have pain in an area that looks a bit dubious on x-ray, you don't have a Disease; you have an injury that your body is still trying to fix.
However, utter only a brief sigh of relief. If you DO have ongoing pain in an area, with or without x-ray findings, there is ongoing inflammation there. And ongoing inflammation IS a Bad thing.
It is a Bad thing because one of the steps in the inflammatory process is destruction of the damaged tissue. Under normal circumstances your body does that because it has to get rid of the damaged cells in order to be able to replace them with new, improved cells. But in chronic inflammation, you have constant destruction of tissue without proper replacement of it. In the case of a joint, most of that destruction is taking place at the cartilage-coated ends of the bone inside the joint. Sooner or later, that WILL do a lot of damage.
Why does your body keep harping on that location? Why doesn’t it just fix it and get out? Because there is still something there that is provoking the inflammatory process.
The process of inflammation is the only way that your body has to fix every problem with which you present it, from an infection to cancer to a broken ankle. So any time your body thinks it has a problem, inflammation begins, and it persists until your body perceives that the problem is fixed. If it's never fixed, the inflammation never quits. You sort of have to admire that kind of persistence.
But, what to do about it? This -- you need to do something to help your body out. To remove the inflammation at its source. And then, finally, your body will quit messing around with it.
So, what provokes inflammation? Cell damage of some sort. Cells can be damaged by outside forces (cuts, sprains, infection, toxins and the like) or they can suffer internal damage from unhealthy metabolism or nutritional deficiencies.
All of those factors can ultimately affect joints. But nutritional deficiencies, infection, toxins and improper metabolism don't really play a part in regular ordinary arthritis. Problems with joints occur when:
1) They are forced to operate outside of their normal range of motion. Wrenching your knee or shoulder are two examples of that. It's also why bad posture is a big deal.
2) They have to carry a bigger load -- either more weight overall, or in an abnormal fashion -- than they are designed to carry.
So then. Here are the two very efficacious natural measures that are advised for osteoarthritis. These get rid of the inflammation at its source. To wit:
1) Exercise. Joints are supposed to move. They are only healthy when they are moving, and in a normal fashion. The only time you rest a joint in rehabilitation is when exercising it will cause further injury. When that’s not the case, you need to use it. If you don't, the muscles associated with it weaken (which itself will cause improper motion, especially if there is already deterioration of the cartilage and bone) and the inflammatory process worsens. Trust me, without correct exercise, arthritis will just get worse. And worse.
Exercise improves flexibility and range of motion, which have everything to do with a healthy joint. With proper motion you get better circulation and your entire body works more like it is meant to. When a joints work the way they are meant to, they don't work as hard, and that diminishes inflammation - and pain.
Exercise increases strength, of the muscles and of the bone as well. When the muscles associated with a joint are stronger, the joint itself carries less weight and thus bears less burden. That diminishes inflammation – and pain.
Exercise also helps with the other activity that is so useful in getting rid of inflammation, which is to
2) Maintain a normal body weight. There’s the obvious, mechanical reason for this; when an arthritic joint has to carry around too much weight, it gets further damaged. That’s the classic reason for reducing to normal weight in the case of arthritis, and it is a very good one.
But, wait! There's more! Fat isn’t just a passive tissue that sits there in lumps except when it gets caught in zippers. It’s actively involved in producing inflammation. I kid you not. This is very good basic physiology. Overeating increases inflammation, something that is now very well established. The presence of excess fat tissue seems to do the same.
Obesity is a source of inflammation not just in the joints, but everywhere else. When you lose weight you'll hurt less, but think also how happy your arteries and pancreas will be as well. Less arterial inflammation, less arteriosclerosis! Less inflammation, less insulin resistance! High fives all around!
As fat accumulates, the amount of inflammation increases everywhere. The less inflammation, the less pain and tissue damage. All over! Yeh!
Exercise and normal eating and body weight are, and not just in my opinion, far and away the best ways to decrease pain and reduce the kind of inflammation associated with everyday arthritis. And that is why I talked about them today. But we've all heard about inflammatory and anti-inflammatory diets, herbs, supplements and the like. Don't those matter too?
In health generally, yeh. But in simple osteoarthritis, no, not so much. You get the weight and the exercise right, most OA problems back off. I promise.
--dr. diane holmes
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