Around one in five Australians currently live with the pain of arthritis. There is no cure and much confusion surrounds what it is and how best to treat and manage the condition. David Goding finds out more

Arthritis - the facts
Living with arthritis

Arthritis is a general term for pain and stiffness – and usually inflammation – in one or more joints in your body. There are over 100 different forms of arthritis, of which osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout are the three most common.

Arthritis is a very common condition in Australia affecting people of all ages and from all walks of life. Its symptoms often have a big impact on the daily lives of people,” says Ainslie Cahill, CEO of Arthritis Australia, currently launching their annual Arthritis Awareness Week, held from March 29 to April 4.

Arthritis is not an old person’s disease, as many people think. In fact, two out of every three people with arthritis are between 15 and 60 years old. Even children can have arthritis.

“Although arthritis can be difficult to live with, there are many simple measures that can help anyone with arthritis manage their symptoms and cope with daily life,” says Cahill.

What treatments are there?

While there is no cure, there are numerous treatments available, depending on your type of arthritis and the joints that are affected. It is important that you work with your doctor or other medical specialists to formulate an overall approach that suits you.

Medications can reduce inflammation and provide pain relief in the form of corticosteroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and ointments and anti-rheumatic medicines. These often work best when combined with other forms of therapy, including physical therapies, such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy
and podiatry.

If medicines haven’t worked for you and if pain and loss of mobility is extreme, you may be a candidate for joint replacement surgery, a commonly performed and generally successful operation.
Complementary therapies, such as acupuncture and, in particular, massage, have also shown to offer benefits in some cases.

What strategies can help?

The importance of being physically active can’t be underestimated. Exercise helps decrease the pain in your joints and muscles and enhances overall flexibility. In addition, strength training – if you are able – helps to strengthen your muscles, taking a load off your joints, improving posture and relieving muscle tension.

Relaxation techniques, such as meditation and yoga are a great way to manage your pain levels and gain some inner calm over what can often be a frustrating condition. Hot and cold packs provide extra pain relief. A heat pack placed over the painful joint for 15 minutes can do wonders. Likewise, an ice pack may help reduce swelling and relieve pain.

It’s also important that you maintain a healthy weight. Carrying extra weight puts extra stress on your joints, which means less flexibility and more pain. Maintaining your health, both with exercise and diet, enables you to control arthritis, rather than it controlling you.

Who can you turn to?

Your general practitioner is the ideal first stop. They have a broad knowledge of medicines and can refer you on to other specialists that may be appropriate for your condition. If you are unhappy with any specialist, see another. It is vital that you form a close understanding with your health professional or health team. The internet is also a great place to do your own research. You can never gather too much information. When it comes to exercise, you should also seek out advice – from you GP, physio or personal trainer – about what is the most effective and appropriate program for you.

It’s also crucial that you have the support of your family and friends. Let them know about your experiences and talk to them about your problems and struggles. There’s no need to do it alone.

10 steps for living well with arthritis

1.    Take control by knowing your disease.

2.    Don’t delay, see your doctor.

3.    Work with your healthcare team and be an important part of it.

4.    Know about your treatment options.

5.    Find new ways to stay active.

6.    Learn techniques to help manage your pain.

7.    Acknowledge your feelings and seek support.

8.    Make food choices that count.

9.    Balance your life.

10.  Call your local State or Territory Arthritis Office.

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Photo credit: STOCKXPERT