Arthritis in as old as man himself and its various faces have changed little over the centuries. It feels the same in a cave or a penthouse, in a beggar or a king. It simply hurts.
Great strides have been made in arthritis treatment during the last five to ten years. But despite this progress in treatment, it remains a baffling disease because it strikes people of all ages and from all areas of society. The cause, and therefore the cure, is unknown. When dealing with arthritis, we’re treating symptoms instead of causes.
There are more than 100 varieties of the disease, and everyone has it to some degree. Osteoarthritis or “wear-and-tear arthritis occurs more frequently in older people but rheumatoid arthritis, the most severe form, usually strikes people between the ages of 30 and 50. New drugs and better artificial joints have minimized the disabilities suffered in the past. There are few areas in medicine in which there have been as many advances as in arthritis, but modern medicine hasn’t developed a definite cure yet.
Because the pain of arthritis tends to come and go, a remission may occur at the same time the patient purchases the bogus cure, so the patient really believes it works. The real danger is that, once people get their copper bracelets or special heating pads or miracle tomato juice, they stop taking their medication and that can lead to serious illness.
There’s nothing anybody can do to ensure that he or she won’t deal with arthritis but following common sense rules about exercise and diet can cut down on some of the wear-and-tear varieties.
If you want to learn how to deal with arthritis, make sure you don’t put any extra strain on joints that are already sore, perhaps from too much unaccustomed exercise and should have infections properly cared for by a doctor.
The more people know about the disease, the more rationally they can deal with it. One in four North Americans deals with some sort of arthritis. Painful if rarely terminal, the worst thing about it seems to be that people think nothing much can be done about it. It is definitely possible to control the affliction – and to a much greater degree than is generally believed. Probably more progress has been made in the fight against arthritis than in the struggle against our other major diseases – cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
The battle against certain forms of arthritis is nearly won. Rheumatoid arthritis, the most common major arthritis, is under attack from a number of promising new treatments. Gout, a major disease of the past, now yields readily to treatment. Systemic lupus erythematosus, once a mysterious and very serious ailment, now is successfully managed in almost every case. New surgical advances, such as joint replacement, often prove dramatically helpful. Genetic factors have been identified for many kinds of arthritis, and our understanding of the molecular basis for joint disease is increasing rapidly.
As arthritis has become better understood, its complexity has become more apparent. More than 100 kinds have been identified. Every kind of arthritis, and ultimately every patient, is different. For treatment to be effective, it is essential to find the treatment most suitable for the individual under care. Knowledge of how to match treatment accurately to the patient is incomplete, and many patients undergo several kinds of treatment before the right one is found.
In the truest sense of the word, most “arthritis” is not really arthritis at all. Doctors use the term differently than patients do. The arth part of the word means “joint”, not muscle, tendon, ligament, or bone. The itis part means “inflamed.” Thus, true arthritis affects the joints, and the inflamed joints are red, warm, swollen, or tender when squeezed. If you don’t have any of these symptoms, then you don’t have the disease in the true sense. However, in common usage, the term arthritis refers to almost any painful condition of the muscles or the skeletal system.
Rheumatism is an imprecise term that includes not only problems with the joints but any problems affecting the body’s musculoskeletal system. There are eight major categories of arthritis. Each category has a different basic problem and a different basic treatment. Each of the categories typically attacks different parts of the body. Synovitis affects the knuckles, wrists and knees. Attachment arthritis affects the low back and sometimes the heels. Crystal arthritis usually affects a knee, an ankle or the base of the great toe. Joint infection involves most commonly a knee or other large joints. Cartilage degeneration tends to affect the finger joints at the end of the finger; these joints are often spared in a synovitis. The neck can be involved by degenerative arthritis, as can the low back or the weight-bearing joints of the legs.
Muscle inflammation involves the muscles and usually spares the joints themselves. Local conditions affect only a single region and general conditions tend to be very poorly described by the patient, who often isn’t sure exactly where the pain and discomfort are coming from. Successful dealing with arthritis depends on the patient as much as on the doctor. The patient makes the decisions that are ultimately most important like how much activity to undertake, whether to see the doctor and when, what kind of doctor to see, when to ask for a second opinion, whether to accept the medical advice offered, whether to follow a treatment program carefully, whether to seek a quack cure etc.
Where there are persons who consider themselves “victims,” there are apt to be others who consider themselves “predators.” More than one-half of persons with significant arthritis participate as victims in one or another confidence game at some point. Usually the person who solicits quack treatments has seen a physician first, so to some extent the existence of quackery reflects a failure of traditional medicine to set proper expectations and deliver hope.
When a patient is asked why he or she decided to deal with arthritis beyond the scope of official medical science, the answer is usually, “The doctors didn’t seem to be able to do anything.” People don’t like to have chronic disease, don’t like to be told that they have to do some of the work toward a cure, and don’t like to learn that the answer isn’t simple. The trademark of the false healer is a simple, easy and exclusive cure. What’s the harm? If a quack treatment isn’t dangerous, why not give it a try? What do you have to lose from the quack?
Money is the most obvious loss to quackery. Almost all frauds make a lot of visible money for somebody, be it an author, a practitioner, or an institution. This is your money. Since others would quickly adopt any arthritis treatment that truly helped a lot of people, a gimmick being used by only one or two practitioners is highly suspect.
Courage and will are precious attributes for the patient dealing with arthritis, and they are eroded by the disillusionment experienced after a false cure fails. Direct side effects of quack treatments can lead to death. Prednisone and phenylbutazone given by quack promoters, have caused fatalities and major complications. The terms quack and fraud are used to refer to treatments that lack a rationale acceptable to scientific consensus and that aren’t supported by acceptable evidence for effectiveness. In other words, there is no reason to think they should work and no evidence that they do.
Consider what you want to accomplish. Lifestyle is your own choice. But the clock is ticking. You would like to increase the days of full function in your life. If you put off the challenge of how to deal with arthritis to “when you feel better,” you may never get around to it.