Originally created 03/20/01

Age old question

Q: A friend suggested that I research alternative therapies for my arthritis. What kind of therapies are available? - C.M., Hephzibah

A: According to Merck's OnHealth Center, arthritis is a general term that describes ongoing inflammation of the joints. Arthritis is a chronic condition, meaning that it may never go away and can affect your life in many ways.

Arthritis and other chronic illnesses can be debilitating. They may impair normal functioning - including reduced range of motion, reduced ability to work and longer than average time needed to complete routine tasks.

Arthritis sufferers must deal with ongoing pain and fatigue. They may also suffer reduced self-esteem and social withdrawal. Work difficulties may cause financial difficulty as well as anxiety about the future.

Inability to perform routine household tasks may require the help of a nurse or caretaker. Such loss of control may affect self-image. The combination of these factors can result in overwhelming stress, hopelessness or depression.

It is estimated that about 40 million Americans suffer from some form of arthritis. The two main types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when the rubbery cartilage on the ends of bones that cushions the joints erodes. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the joints swell and become stiff.

Arthritis often affects the hips, knees, spine, fingers and toes.

Traditional medical treatment for arthritis includes nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs and injections to reduce swelling. Heat and cold therapy also has proved helpful. Water therapy, as done in a whirlpool, may also prove therapeutic. Supportive devices, including crutches and canes, are often prescribed. A program of weight control also is prescribed because excess weight can put undue stress on the joints. Paraffin wax treatments are currently being promoted as helpful in easing joint pain.

Gardening has been promoted as a positive activity for those with arthritis because it encourages joint movement in a cool medium, soil. Windowsill gardens may be best for those with limited mobility. They are manageable, therapeutic and ultimately very useful for arthritis sufferers.

The nutritional supplements glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates have recently been heralded. Studies are being conducted to determine if these supplements can help reduce arthritis pain or slow the breakdown of cartilage that contributes to joint pain. These supplements are actually natural components of normal joint cartilage and are available in drugstores without a prescription.

If you suffer from arthritis, it may be in your best interest to seek treatment from an arthritis specialist. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, arthritis sufferers who were treated by an arthritis specialist received the best care.

Consistent care is the most important factor in judging the quality of care. Arthritis medications may cause dangerous side effects if not monitored carefully by a qualified medical professional.

If you have a question or would like additional information, please write to: Shirley McIntosh, Resource Center on Aging, 2803 Wrightsboro Road, Suite 51, Augusta, GA 30909.


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