Stiffness in the joints is a common disease 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 called Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease where the body is actually fighting itself. This is what the term autoimmune means. Rheumatoid arthritis usually occurs on both sides of the body. This means it occurs in both hands, both knees, etc. Rheumatoid Arthritis or RA, is an autoimmune disease that selectively attacks the synovial joints, especially the small joints of the hands or feet.
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 will have more difficulty functioning or moving correctly. 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 with rheumatoid arthritis usually see swelling in the affected joint after rest, especially upon awakening.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Common diagnostic criteria for those affected with rheumatoid arthritis is morning stiffness, pain on motion or joint effusion in at least one joint, soft tissue swelling or joint effusion in at least one joint. As well as swelling of at least one joint; bilateral, symmetrical, and simultaneous joint swelling, and also subcutaneous nodules.
Other symptoms of RA include:
- Generalized muscle weakness, and
- A fever.
In face many people think of rheumatoid arthritis as a condition of the hands and wrists, however 80% of pts will develop cervical spine changes as well.
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. Here at Mountain View Pain Center, your chiropractor will help guide you before you begin any exercise program or commit to any significant physically related lifestyle changes.
Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis
At Mountain View Pain Center we see many patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The spine is especially susceptible to this disorder. In fact, you may have the early signs of spinal rheumatoid 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. Another more revealing and diagnostic procedure is a simple x-ray. An x-ray film can reveal the bony changes associated with either rheumatic arthritis.
The treatment for the two types of arthritis is similar. Both require ice, passive motion (the practitioner moves the joint while the patient remains relaxed) and or the use of ultrasound to help control the swelling. Moist heat is also needed to help increase circulation. 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. At Mountain View Pain Center we 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.