What you should know about arthritis
If the word makes you think about older people with creaky knees and jumbo bottles of ibuprofen, you need an update. Arthritis now strikes an estimated 1 in 6 people have arthritis in Australia, according to Arthritis Australia. The most common type is osteoarthritis, while others include rheumatoid arthritis, gout, fibromyalgia and lupus. There is no cure for any of them, but science has made several breakthroughs in understanding how to treat the inflammation and pain that come with the condition as well as how to halt the underlying joint damage. The first line of defence: Educate yourself.
X-rays are still the best diagnostic tool for arthritis
“You can’t see the cartilage wearing away with an X-ray, but you can see the bones touch, which is usually enough to make a diagnosis,” says Dr Alexis Colvin, an orthopaedic surgeon. Indeed, a Washington University study noted that X-rays can diagnose osteoarthritis as accurately as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – and they do it faster and more cheaply.
But remember: “Just because you don’t have it on the X-ray doesn’t mean you don’t have it,” notes Dr Colvin. Your doctor can do blood tests and a physical exam to determine whether you have arthritis. Identifying it early is key because it gives you time to turn to lifestyle changes before irreversible damage is done to your knees (the most common pain point) or other joints.
There’s no cure for OA
The customary treatment for OA is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. The medications don’t repair joints, but it can make them less stiff and achy. Though NSAIDs can be effective at getting you through the day, says Kelli Allen, PhD, a researcher at the Thurston Arthritis Research Center, they don’t protect joints from progressive damage and may have serious side effects. Using a cane or crutch can make getting around easier without any side effect, says Dr Colvin.