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The aches, pains and swelling of arthritis — article by Scott Keith

Posted Jun 18 2010 12:36am

Arthritis is probably one of the first medical conditions you became familiar with as you were growing up. Not because you had it. More likely, you remember your grandparents suffering from stiff and painful joints. You may have formed the opinion that arthritis only strikes the elderly.

Not necessarily so, according to Dr. Kenneth Hudspeth, a board certified family practice physician at the Executive Wellness Center of the Heart Hospital of Austin, Texas. “The more physically active you’ve been, and the more you’ve abused your joints, the earlier you get the disease,” says Hudspeth, recalling that his uncle, who played college football, began having arthritis in his 30s.

While you can get arthritis in your third decade, it’s still more likely to show up in senior citizens. According to Hudspeth, “If you take a group of 75-year-olds, 80 percent of them will have significant arthritis symptoms.”

Hudspeth, in an interview with Men and Health: It’s a Guy Thing, says there are a couple of forms of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a connective tissue disease; it’s an inflammatory reaction in the joint that can gradually invade the tendons. “Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, is a gradual deterioration of the actual articular, or joint surface. The joint fluid is there, but the joint space begins to shrink because there’s less cartilage to pad the joints. That’s what causes the pain and stiffness.”

Arthritis can affect different parts of the body. Hudspeth says osteoarthritis can strike major joints, such as the knees and hips. The rheumatoid form can be noticed in the hands, shoulders, feet and ankles. Symptoms can vary. “It usually starts with some morning stiffness, particularly with osteoarthritis…the pain tends to be more of a manifestation as we get further into the disease…you have stiffness, loss of dexterity, loss of flexibility…those first few steps out of bed in the morning can be really uncomfortable,” notes Hudspeth. Joint swelling is possible with any form of arthritis.

Hudspeth says there’s a genetic tendency to get the disease, but it’s “sort of random.” According to Hudspeth, “In my own case, I have ten aunts and uncles. I can think of three of them who have osteoarthritis pretty severely. One of those had his hip replaced.”

How does one treat arthritis? Hudspeth says anti-inflammatory medications are excellent for relieving inflammation, but you need to be aware of possible kidney and liver problems if you take too much of these medications. A second-line treatment can include creams; injections can provide temporary relief. Hudspeth says steroid injections (used for acute inflammation and pain) can be problematic. “The problem with steroid injections in an arthritic joint is that it gives immediate relief, but down the road it’s going to cause some increased erosion of the joint surface. It’s just one of those little Catch 22′s that we run into,” says Hudspeth. If mobility becomes an issue, an artificial knee or hip can be surgically implanted.

When it comes to activities, the idea is not to injure the joint further. Looking at senior groups engaged in low-impact exercises, “we want them to stretch, we want them to get full range of motion of the joint, we want them to get some muscle stimulation, so they keep muscle fiber healthy. But we don’t want them doing things like jogging distances or high-impact aerobics, because that tends to injure the joint further and worsen their symptoms,” according to Hudspeth.

Don’t get discouraged if you discover you have arthritis. Says Hudspeth, “Stay active. Don’t let it beat you. Take every chance that you can to do some sort of (low impact) activity. Don’t overdo it, but you need to be doing something every day…it’s still that old thing about mind over matter.”

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