BEST WAY TO BATTLE ARTHRITIS
MILLIONS of arthritis sufferers were given fresh hope yesterday after it was revealed that simple lifestyle changes could reduce the crippling pain.
Doctors claim that regular exercise, losing weight and better diets will all help to prevent or control the condition.
And experts warned that immediate action is necessary as the number with arthritis in Britain is set to double to 17 million – around one in four of the population – within 20 years because of poor lifestyle and increasing lifespans.
There are currently 8.5 million people nationwide suffering from osteoarthritis, which commonly affects hips, knees and hands.
According to new research, nearly three-quarters (71 per cent) claim to be in constant pain.
The average age for diagnosis is 57, though one patient in five is under 45. With life expectancy on the rise, this could mean sufferers enduring decades of pain.
But experts now say that arthritis need not become debilitating and “something can always be done”.
Philip Conaghan, professor of musculoskeletal medicine at the University of Leeds and a member of Arthritis Care, said: “Action is needed immediately – we have to bust this myth that painful joints are an inevitable part of getting older that we have to put up with.
“When people are diagnosed with osteoarthritis, often they react by saying ‘It’s all downhill from here’. But for the majority it isn’t.
“In most people osteoarthritis is very manageable.” Patients can see a dramatic change in their symptoms by following Prof Conaghan’s advice, issued ahead of Arthritis Care Week which starts on Monday.
“There are so many ways to help with osteoarthritis pain including taking pain relief medication, strengthening muscles, taking aerobic exercise, losing weight if appropriate and, in the worst case scenario, joint replacement surgery – so it’s by no means all doom and gloom.”
Prof Conaghan said the key is to strengthen the muscles before embarking on aerobic activity.
“If the knee is affected, walk laps in a swimming pool or hold on to the side rail and swing your legs in the water. Once strong enough to get out of a chair unassisted, it is safe to use an exercise bike or cross trainer, swim or walk briskly,” he said.
“Exercise does two things: it builds muscle and burns calories, which will reduce pain and should prevent the condition from worsening. And there are many trials that show exercise can reduce pain as effectively as drugs.”
Patients should discuss pain relief with their GP, though it is possible to use certain over-the-counter remedies such as paracetamol.
Up to 12 per cent of people over 50 suffer from severe osteoarthritis in their hands, which can have a devastating effect on sufferers.
In this instance, Prof Conaghan recommends building up forearm strength and swimming and “an occasional steroid injection as part of a package of care”.
In the feet, it can be soothed by switching footwear to shock- absorbent soles and good arch support.
Osteoarthritis is chronic and incurable, causing inflammation of the tissues in and around the joints, damage to cartilage and bony growths.
Incredibly, its far-reaching effects cost the economy the equivalent of one per cent of GNP – including more than 140,000 hip and knee replacements performed by the NHS each year. Figures from a YouGov survey, called Osteoarthritis Nation 2012, provide a detailed snapshot of the physical, emotional and financial impact of osteoarthritis.
Of the 2,001 people surveyed, nearly half (44 per cent) admitted to doing no exercise. Even more (52 per cent) said they gave up or cut down walking since their diagnosis.
Judith Brodie, of Arthritis Care, said: “We need policy-makers and professionals to take the condition seriously; to implement robust and meaningful strategies to address how osteoarthritis is treated and managed across the UK and to improve health services.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “The increasing demands of an ageing population on the NHS are factored into our estimates of what is needed in the future.
“Our reforms will put doctors in the driving seat to commission the services that meet the needs of patients in their area.”
For more information visit http://www.arthritiscare.org.uk or call 0808 800 4050.
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