Many conditions bear the generic name “arthritis.” The dictionary definition of arthritis is inflammation of the joints, but the differences between each arthritic condition can and does vary. Ask any individual diagnosed with arthritis and they will tell you what they understand; their joints hurt!

A more old fashioned term, yet one that seems more fitting would be rheumatism. The term implies that other structures (besides the bones that make up a joint) such as connective tissue, muscles, tendons, bursae and other fibrous tissue surrounding the joint are affected by the pain and destruction of this chronic degenerative disease.

What causes arthritis? The answer to this question is not a simple one and it depends on who you ask. A medical doctor may say it’s just old age and over use and that answer is correct, but only in part. Arthritis traced backwards from its early beginnings in the body will reveal that indeed many other organ systems besides the musculoskelatal system are involved.

What are the most common types of arthritis? The American Rheumatic Association and The Arthritis Foundation have named thirteen separate conditions as arthritic. The two most common forms are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis with fibromyalgia beginning to be a close second.

Osteoarthritis usually effects people over the age of 30 and is believed by age 70 to be a universal condition. Although the cause in not fully understood, it is most often associated with continuos over use of the joint or joints. Old injury can also play a part along with osteoporosis, poor diet, smoking, heavy alcohol use and genetics.

The etiology of Rheumatoid arthritis is also poorly understood. It is thought to be autoimmune  in nature and causes chronic inflammation of the connective tissue throughout the body including lungs, heart, blood vessels and internal organs, not just the joints. It can be bacterial and is sometimes Lyme disease in disguise. It strikes infants as well as elderly and everyone inbetween. Women are many times more seriously affected. It is an aggressive disease and certainly much more serious than osteoarthritis. This disease is best managed under the care of a physician, not on your own. That is not to say natural therapies are not beneficial.

Firbromyalgia is not really a new disorder, few things that plague man kind are. The name is new and the rising number of new cases is directly related to our Western life style of poor nutrition, obesity and other environmental pollutions. Doctors are diagnosing everyone, especially women with this disorder many times without the exacting criteria agreed upon in studies done by the Arthritis Foundation.

People suffering with FM complain of everything from sore muscles and trigger points to bouts of irritable bowel and low grade fever. This opportunistic disorder attacks when immunity is low due to poor health habits sometimes coupled with hidden bacterial or viral infection.

Many individuals use NSAIDS (non steroidal antinflamatories) to control their symptoms, but what else can we do? Massage can be a valuable adjunct to treatment programs for several reasons. Massage is the single best muscle relaxant, and helps resolve muscle contractures gently. It increases arterial blood flow and oxygenation of the tissues. It increases the flow of synovial fluid in the joints while breaking up exudate that settles in and around the joints bringing freedom of movement. An exercise program will also be an invaluable tool in the fight against your painful joints.

A clean diet of more limited amounts of protein, especially animal protein is beneficial. Limit highly processed foods, coffee, pop and in their place use clean water and herbal teas. Some arthritics find the avoidance of night shade plants to be helpful — tomato, potato, green pepper, eggplant.

Food supplements important for joint health, glucosamine sulfate with or without chondroitin, an essential fatty acid fish oil, flax, or primrose oil and MSM which is beneficial for some cases. Use a high quality B vitamin. Mineral supplementation should NOT be overlooked especially sulphur and magnesium. Malic Acid, another supplement found in the skins of apples has proven to be helpful. When you try a new supplement, try one thing at a time so if something backfires you’re sure what’s making you feel worse.

One final note, any chronic degenerative disease, including arthritis usually can be improved upon. These kinds of conditions can be discouraging — knowing that you have some control over the process may be just what you need. It’s your responsibility, go for it!

Till next time, Rebecca.