Every May, The National Arthritis Foundation hosts events, seminars, and fundraising functions for National Arthritis Awareness Month.  The National Arthritis Foundation has dedicated this entire month to arthritis awareness, education, and fundraising efforts because of the overwhelming prominence of arthritis in America.  Today, more than 50 million Americans are affected by arthritis, “in every 5 adults, 300,000 children and countless families are affected by arthritis.” making arthritis the number one cause of disability in America. (blog.arthirtis.org)

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is such a common condition most people have heard of, but not everyone knows exactly how it works.  Arthritis actually isn’t one single disease, but a way of referring to joint pain. While there are hundreds of different kinds of arthritis, arthritis itself is an autoimmune disorder that refers to joint inflammation.  Joints will swell, causing stiffness and pain when trying to move. Swelled joints tend to also limit the range of motion, so certain movements are painful and sometimes impossible. While there are hundreds of different kinds of arthritis, the two most common are Osteoarthritis (OA), and Rheumatoid arthritis (RA).  OA also is known as degenerative arthritis is the most common type of arthritis. Degenerative arthritis is true to its name-when cartilage, the flexible connective tissue that also protects your bones and allows movement is worn out, it causes the bones to rub together. When bones rub together they start to deteriorate sometimes irreversibly, becoming worn out, weak, and causing immense amounts of discomfort, along with a limited range of motion.  OA can be caused by a number of factors such as normal muscle wear and tear, age and weight.

Rheumatoid arthritis refers to chronic inflammation of the joints, and sometimes even the skin, eyes, lungs and heart.  RA occurs when the immune system attacks the lining of the joint membrane by accident. While there is no definitive conclusion explaining why the body mistakenly attacks the immune system, we do know that these mistake attacks result in a quite painful deterioration of the joint’s protective lining.  When this protective lining is gone, “The tendons and ligaments that hold the joint together weaken and stretch. Gradually, the joint loses its shape and alignment “causing major discomfort (Mayoclinic). Medical professionals are still not completely sure of what the main instigator of Rheumatoid arthritis is, but they have determined that two likely causes are genetics and environmental factors.  Some might be more susceptible to rheumatoid arthritis simply from their genetic makeup, others might experience RA because of a virus or bacteria that entered their body and became the catalyst.

The cause of arthritis

Since there are so many different types of arthritis, that have so many different symptoms and characteristics, its difficult to pinpoint exactly what is causing it.  Arthritis is joint inflammation, but arthritis has become a universal term to describe over 200 conditions that affect joints, the surrounding tissue, and the connective tissue, so putting a finger on one particular cause is almost impossible.  What is believed to be one of the biggest culprits is simple wear and tear of the joint’s cartilage, this is the most common cause for OA, the most common type of arthritis. This is why arthritis is so common in professional athletes, active individuals and older folks.

Who arthritis effects

While arthritis commonly found in athletes and older individuals, it affects people all of the walks of life, of all ages.  Arthritis is stereotyped to be a condition that only older people experience, but it is the number one cause of disability in America, it’s definitely affecting more than just one age group of people.  Arthritis can affect someone as young as an infant, “Almost 300,000 babies, kids and teens have arthritis or a rheumatic condition”(blog.arthirtis.org). Again, medical professionals are still unsure of what is causing juvenile arthritis and since years of wear and tear is obviously not causing it, it still remains an unsolved dilemma. Doctors believe that one of the causes of juvenile arthritis is genetics, but again, there isn’t a definitive answer.  As far as older folks go, according to the arthritis foundation, about 54 million adults have been diagnosed with arthritis by a doctor, that’s 22% of American adults!

Preventing and Managing Arthritis

Since there is still such little information on what causes arthritis, it can be difficult to determine preventative measures to take and ways to manage arthritis.

Watching the weight

As far as OA goes, it has been suggested that maintaining a healthy weight is one way of potentially preventing arthritis. Having extra weight on your body puts more pressure on the joints, making it more difficult for them to move.  The body has to work harder to support this extra weight-leading to more frequent and sometimes severe wear and tear of the joints. It is also suggested that seeing a doctor regularly and informing them of any pain or discomfort in the joints can help prevent and manage arthritis.

Knowing when to stop

Of course, exercise is a great thing that everyone needs, but over-exercising can take a toll on your joints and be an arthritis catalyst.  Your body can only handle so much, so it’s important to listen to it and not over exhaust it! Exercise can also be a great way to manage and potentially improve pain for those with arthritis. It might sound like we’re contradicting ourselves a little here, but for those with arthritis, the right amount of exercise can help maintain bone strength, strengthen muscles thus lowering fatigue, and improve balance just to name a few.  It can be a painstaking task to exercise with arthritic achy and sore bones, but you don’t need to run a marathon to reap the benefits, just a light amount of exercise a few times a week is a great start! Make sure to talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise regime with arthritis.

FOOD!

If you know us, you know we can’t do anything without the mention of our favorite thing in the world-FOOD!  One of the countless reasons we love food so much is for its ability to heal! Food is some of the best medicine nature has to offer and can help prevent and manage conditions like arthritis.  Whole grains like oatmeal, millet, and whole grain bread have lower the levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP can cause inflammation, so those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis can greatly benefit from these delicious grains!  Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and limes that are high in vitamin-C which is known to aid in reducing inflammation. Foods rich in vitamin D such as certain dairy products or dark leafy greens are also great for preventing and managing arthritis. Vitamin D is essential for calcium adsorption which helps strengthen bones and keeps the immune system happy and healthy.

How can you get involved in Arthritis Awareness Month?

Since 22% of the adult population is suffering from this condition, chances are you know someone with arthritis. If you’re looking for ways to support them, try donating to foundations like the National Arthritis Foundation (LINK) or participating in fundraising events that raise money for arthritis research.  Show you support them by listening to their struggles and triumphs and understanding their mental and physical limitations due to their arthritis. If you’re looking for preventative measures to take for arthritis, make sure to be conscious of your diet and exercise regime, see a doctor regularly and always listen to your body!  

CITATIONS

Arthritis. (2018, March 07). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350772

May Is National Arthritis Awareness Month. (2015, May 07). Retrieved from http://blog.arthritis.org/news/arthritis-awareness-month/