We know that many of you are managing arthritis. Indeed it was autoimmune arthritis that helped lead Vicky to discover Nordic walking and set up Bristol Nordic Walking in the first place.
An exercise like Nordic walking can help reduce the pain and stiffness of arthritis because it maintains mobility and keeps muscles strong enough to support joints. However, dietary and lifestyle choices are also important and, besides medication, there are other complimentary treatment options.
To mark National Arthritis Week we have asked one of Bristol’s largest chiropractors Willow Chiropractic how to manage arthritis and explain how Chiropractic can help. Here's what they have to say:
“If you're one of the 350 million people worldwide affected by arthritis, you'll know that it causes painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints. Those with the most common form, osteoarthritis, find that their movements are limited because of this stiffness and pain. It can be immensely frustrating and impinge on day to day living and enjoyment.
Whilst there is no cure, osteoarthritis doesn’t necessarily get worse over time and can sometimes gradually improve with the right care and management. There are many ways to manage its symptoms and effects to enable you to continue living at the quality of life and activity you are used to.
Dietary and Lifestyle Modifications
The importance of your diet and lifestyle in managing osteoarthritis should not be underestimated. Osteoarthritis is an inflammatory condition. Its symptoms can be aggravated by eating foods that contribute to inflammation in the body. Avoiding certain foods could help you to avoid triggering flare-ups.
Olly Eccles from our Emersons Green clinic says that “smoking, sugar and excessive alcohol are the big ones to avoid. A healthy diet can help decrease inflammation which means less pain, as well as your body being better equipped to respond and recover. I recommend eating a varied diet with a focus on lots of fruit and veg daily”. Salt is also a prime culprit – too much salt causes an inflammatory reaction in the body, which can contribute to joint damage.
As well as a balanced diet, a healthy weight is important. It naturally follows that lower body mass equals less pressure on joints.
Exercise and arthritis can and should coexist. People with arthritis who exercise regularly have less pain, more energy, improved sleep and better day-to-day function. Sarah Barrow from our Bedminster clinic says “I would really recommend regular exercise, as it has the extra benefit of keeping weight down and increasing muscle strength – this in turn takes pressure off your joints as your muscles step in to support.”
Decreased pain tolerance, weak muscles, stiff joints and poor balance common to many forms of arthritis can be made worse by inactivity. However, the right kind of exercise is very important.
Olly recommends that patients with osteoarthritis “should initially avoid any high-impact activities such as running, as the impact through the joints can aggravate the pain. Instead, try low-impact strengthening exercises, such as yoga or pilates. Start with static holds such as planks, and as your body strengthens make them more dynamic – a short yoga routine, or a gentle swim. Starting small and building up gradually will help those with osteoarthritis to eventually cope better with the higher-impact activities”.
Whatever type of arthritis you’re dealing with, you might well be relying on pain relief medication to function from day to day. This may range from pain killers to NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers) to steroids. All of the drug treatments available are designed to control symptoms – they won’t help to heal the damage or cure the underlying condition.
There’s always a balance to be had between the benefits and possible side-effects and the side effects of NSAIDS when taken long-term or very regularly are worth noting. According to scientists at the University of Nottingham these side effects can range from seriously affecting gastrointestinal health to causing heart attacks.
Chiropractic & manual therapies
There are many other alternative and complementary ways to manage the pain, decrease inflammation and increase movement, which can reduce or remove the need for painkillers. Chiropractic is one of them.
The word ‘chiropractic’ derives from the Ancient Greek words ‘kheír’ (‘hand’) and ‘praktikós’ (‘action’), which literally describes what it is! The treatment involves manual manipulation of the spine and joints to restore them to their natural positions and full range of movement. This relieves stiffness and, by association, pain. By increasing the mobility of your joints, chiropractic can enable you to enjoy your favourite activities with less restriction. In fact, according to William Lauretti, DC, an assistant professor at New York Chiropractic College, chiropractic patients with arthritis often improve without the need for pain medications.
Bupa also lists acupuncture, homeopathy, osteopathy and massage therapy, but there is almost no conclusive research or evidence to support claims that the former two are effective for osteoarthritis. Osteopathy can be used to treat osteoarthritis and takes a more whole-body approach and will manipulate muscle tissue as well as bones, whereas a chiropractor will focus on joints and the ripple effect that misalignments there have on the rest of the body. A patient may choose one or the other based on where and how their osteoarthritis manifests. These differ from physiotherapy, which focuses on muscular strengthening. Massage therapy can provide welcome relief from pain but won't treat the condition - patients should ask advice from a medical practitioner (whether that's a GP, physio, chiro, osteo) before undertaking massage therapy though, because depending on the individual case it could actually have the opposite effect.
It's important to note that chiropractic and osteopathy are not necessarily appropriate in treating other types of arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis).
With the help of a personalised treatment plan that includes meaningful lifestyle changes, people living with osteoarthritis can find freedom from pain and learn to manage their condition. For older OA patients, this could mean being able to retain independence and mobility for longer as they move into old age; meanwhile, younger sufferers can stay active at work, meet the physical demands of looking after young children, and, of course, have the energy and ability to enjoy their hobbies. Sarah advises that “chiropractic can be really helpful for anyone who suffers with osteoarthritis, as enabling the joints to move as efficiently as possible and correcting poor posture can help reduce the symptoms and improve their long-term prognosis’.
Willow Chiropractic, Bristol