Last year was tough for all of us but if you have arthritis, you probably had it tougher than most. People were unable to attend for routine appointments and diagnostic imaging and many peoples’ scheduled surgery was cancelled due to Covid.
With the start of the New Year, we are currently facing many of the same challenges as last year but with hope on the horizon of the vaccine roll-out and a gradual return to normality. Right now, though, if you have arthritis symptoms it can be helpful to know what you can do to manage them more effectively, particularly if you are waiting for treatment.
What are the symptoms of arthritis?
Arthritis is a progressive disease which means the symptoms may begin gradually and worsen over time. It can affect joints throughout the body. Here are some of the symptoms to look out for:
- Hip arthritis: The main symptom is pain around the hip, which may be intermittent with mild arthritis becoming constant as the condition worsens. It is normally accompanied by growing stiffness or discomfort at night. The pain may feel like an ache in the front of the groin going down into the thigh, or you may experience pain at the side of the hips, buttocks or the back of the thigh. It often becomes worse after sitting for any length of time or when you stand, walk or run and getting in and out of a car may also be difficult. Gradually you will lose function in the hip joint but, while a short rest may bring some relief, prolonged inactivity makes symptoms worse.
- Knee arthritis: You will experience pain in the knee, which may be dull and aching or sharp. It may be a constant, low level pain or you may experience flare-ups of more intense pain. Activities that strain the knee joint, such as walking upstairs or squatting, tend to cause an increase in symptoms. Other signs of knee arthritis include: swelling due to cartilage loss which causes the bones to rub together; and stiffness, heat or redness around the joint. The latter may indicate an infection so you should see a doctor immediately if you experience these symptoms.
- Hand arthritis: This condition can affect a single joint (normally the joint at the base of the thumb) or several joints in the thumb, fingers and wrist. You may notice that gripping and pinching becomes more difficult in the early stages, and this tends to worsen as the condition becomes more severe. Over time, bony spurs can develop causing arthritic knuckles to appear bigger, cysts and abnormal swellings may occur and the joints can become inflamed. Severe hand arthritis may lead to carpal tunnel syndrome and can prevent people from being able to care for themselves properly.
- Ankle arthritis: Symptoms of ankle arthritis include lower shin pain as well as pain in the back or middle of the foot. The pain can be sharp or a dull ache. It may be intermittent or constant and you may experience flare-ups of more intense pain, particularly after walking or jogging. As the condition develops the ankle may become stiffer, leaving you unable to flex your foot or move your ankle from side to side. The ankle may swell due to friction in the joint as the bones start to rub together.
- Shoulder arthritis: The pain of shoulder arthritis usually affects the back of the shoulder when you move the joint. It may be experienced as a constant dull ache or intermittent flare-ups, which often occur at night making sleeping difficult. Your shoulder may feel stiff and you may gradually lose movement in the joint making it difficult to perform everyday activities like washing or getting dressed. Sometimes you may hear popping or crunching noises (crepitus) and the shoulder joint may catch.
Managing your arthritis symptoms
Depending on the type of arthritis you have and its severity, we recommend a mix of lifestyle changes and medical treatments to help you manage the symptoms. It is important for people with arthritis to:
- Eat healthily and maintain a healthy weight as this helps to avoid putting extra pressure on damaged joints. Certain foods such as broccoli has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, while others such as saturated fat in processed red meat and dairy can increase inflammation.
- Get enough sleep as this is when your body repairs itself. Sleep is also important for immunity and to combat feelings of anxiety and depression, which can be linked to arthritis.
- Avoid smoking and excess alcohol. Smoking can increase cholesterol in the blood and too much alcohol may reduce bone growth, which can increase the chance of fractures particularly in people with osteoporosis.
- Exercise, as this can help to reduce stiffness, improve flexibility and movement and increase muscle strength.
- Use aids to support you with everyday activities, such as electric tin openers if you have hand arthritis or long-handled tools to help you pick things up. If you have severe arthritis you may be able to use special controls so you can continue driving.
- Seek medical help as early as possible as there are treatments that can help you to manage the symptoms of arthritis at every stage as well as slowing the progression of the disease. These may include painkilling medication, physiotherapy or occupational therapy to help you adapt everyday activities so you can continue to live a full and active life.
Surgery for arthritis
If you are suffering from severe arthritis, you may be offered surgery. There are different surgical treatments and your consultant will recommend the one that might be most suitable for you, such as:
- Joint repair, which entails smoothing or realigning the surfaces of your arthritic joint, often using keyhole surgery (arthroscopy).
- Joint fusion, which may be used to reduce pain in smaller joints such as fingers, wrists and ankles.
- Joint replacement, which is used for the most severe types of arthritis and involves removing the damaged joint and replacing it with a prosthetic implant.
If you are experiencing arthritis symptoms, talk to us about the best way to manage your symptoms, including possible treatment options and likely outcomes.
Next steps | Orthopaedic specialists – Nottingham
Our orthopaedic consultants each specialise in a particular area of orthopaedics, giving you added peace of mind that you are receiving expert medical advice and highly tailored treatment.
BMI The Park Hospital
Sherwood Lodge Drive Burntstump Country Park, Arnold NG5 8RX
Spire Nottingham Hospital
Tollerton Ln, Tollerton, Nottingham NG12 4GA