Stiffness in the joints is a common condition that increases with aging. When the stiffness worsens to the point of being painful, arthritis may be the diagnosis. Arthritis is breakdown of normal cartilage caused by either excessive joint wear and tear or from an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases are when the body is fighting itself. This is what the term autoimmune means. Most autoimmune diseases happen on both sides of the body. In contrast, the other form of arthritis, called degenerative arthritis, will usually occur on one side. This form of arthritis is due to wear and tear or repetitive injury to the same joint or joints.
Early detection of arthritis is essential. Once damage to a joint surface begins, little can be done to restore it back to the original condition. This is because cartilage, the material that makes up the surfaces of the joint, has a poor blood supply. Although cartilage will heal to a degree, it simply will not heal as well as muscle or skin. The good news is that with proper care and supervised rehabilitative exercises, the surrounding support tissues can be strengthened to compensate for many of these joint disorders.
As cartilage continues to be worn down, the joint has more difficulty functioning. A simple analogy to this is to go loosen the hinges on a door and see how poorly it opens and closes. Even if the swelling could be entirely removed from a very arthritic joint, the lack of proper joint motion would cause so much additional stress to the joint that the swelling would quickly return.
It is important to reduce and control the swelling of arthritis as swelling itself contributes to the destruction of the cartilage. People who suffer from degenerative arthritis commonly experience swelling after activity. It is important to use arthritic joints as disuse also leads to more arthritic changes; however, it is vital to not over stress an arthritic joint; otherwise, the swelling may significantly worsen. If you have either form of joint arthritis, your Doctor of Chiropractic should be consulted before you begin any exercise program or commit to any significant physically related lifestyle changes.
Chiropractors see many patients with degenerative arthritis. The spine is especially susceptible to this disorder. In fact, you may have the early signs of spinal degenerative arthritis but just have not noticed the symptoms yet. Simple palpation (feeling) of the vertebrae while the spine is slowly being moved can discover joints that do not move as freely as other joints do. This is one finding that could lead to a diagnosis of degenerative arthritis. Another revealing procedure is a simple x-ray. A x-ray film can reveal the bony changes associated with either degenerative or autoimmune arthritis.
The treatment for the two types of arthritis is similar. Both require heat, passive motion (the practitioner moves the joint while the patient remains relaxed) and or the use of traction to help mobilize the joints. Paraffin wax baths are helpful for hands and wrists while moist hot packs are used for the spine, shoulders, and knees. Arthritic hips may require deep-heat sources like microwave or short-wave diathermy. This is because the hip joints are seated to deeply in the pelvis to reach with more commonly used therapies. Your chiropractor can provide, prescribe, or recommend these therapies as needed. The application of spinal and or extremity manipulation may also be used to help you gain control over your arthritic condition. Nutritional counseling, exercise instruction, and lifestyle changes may additional considerations during your course of care.
Dr. Michael Gampolo