Aches of Arthritis
Diet and weight control vital, younger generations under assault
Your joints hurt, you’re not a kid anymore and you suspect arthritis may be in play. So you consult Dr. Google and find the Arthritis Foundation. Examining the nonprofit’s website explaining what symptoms may indicate it’s time to see a living, breathing doctor ―such as joint pain, swelling and stiffness― you click on “Arthritis Types.” And before you is an amazingly long list of more than 100 diseases and conditions found under the arthritis umbrella.
By far the most common and familiar of these is osteoarthritis, the “wear and tear” condition we often associate with aging that affects cartilage or the cushion in a joint. There are about 27 million Americans with some form of osteoarthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What’s scary is that osteoarthritis is today documented in much younger people, according to a prominent Canadian study and local and state experts. Although greater awareness of the condition may account for some increase in diagnoses, there are other factors pushing the numbers up.
One is obesity. Those deemed as severely obese ―defined as 100 pounds or more over an ideal weight or with a body mass index, or BMI, of 40 or more ―were 2.5 times more likely than those of normal weight ranges to have some form of arthritis, according to a Toronto study reported in the journal Arthritis Care & Research.
Mike Singer, director for the Arthritis Foundation’s Tampa office, which serves Southwest Florida, says arthritis is a consistent issue in the Sunshine State, pointing out that Florida’s older population skews the numbers, but there’s also a high number of active military and veterans. “One out of three active or retired military people has arthritis,” Singer says. “They’re carrying weapons, tools, backpacks … it’s the No. 1 medical reason for medical discharge, besides combat injury.” That’s one of the ways the “wear-and-tear” factor comes into play. Another is sports injuries, says Dr. Brian Healy, practicing on Sanibel. “We’re realizing that injuries in high impact sports can seem like nothing at the time, but even a minor injury to a bone will lead to calcium buildup,” which causes another hallmark of osteoarthritis: bone spurs, he adds. “And it’s absolutely happening younger,” Healy says. “With so many chronic illnesses now, where you used to see [nearly exclusively] people in their 60s and 70s, it's pretty common to see people in their 40s and 50s, even in their 20s, with osteoarthritis." In addition to injuries and obesity, Healy points to diet as another cause of osteoarthritis. “The big problem is acidity,” he says. “We’re eating too much protein. Too many animal products. The way we regulate ourselves is that if you become too acidic, for instance, your body will actually take some calcium out of the bones to normalize.”
IT'S PRETTY COMMON TO SEE PEOPLE IN THEIR 40S AND 50S, EVEN IN THEIR 20S, WITH OSTEOARTHRITIS."
—DR. BRIAN HEALY, SANIBEL
No matter what causes osteoarthritis, treatment targets the pain and swelling. Healy treats these symptoms with an anti-inflammatory diet and supplements, acupuncture and Far Infrared Radiation therapy ―a special type of heat lamp that emits a bandwidth of infrared light reported to have healing properties. Like any treatment, home research and talking with
a doctor is recommended.
In recent years some patients have turned to prolotherapy ―involving injections of an irritant such as phenol, hypertonic dextrose, glycerin or other substances into a joint that reportedly cause the body to respond by growing more soft tissue. Fort Myers physician Ross Hauser was the first in Southwest Florida to offer this therapy, which is especially popular with elite athletes.
More traditional treatments for osteoarthritis include anti-inflammatory and pain medications and steroid injections, as well as surgery. Regular exercise is nearly always recommended as a way to keep the stiffness, pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis under control.
WHAT’S SCARY IS THAT OSTEOARTHRITIS IS TODAY DOCUMENTED IN MUCH YOUNGER PEOPLE.
Dayna Harpster is a writer, editor and accredited public relations professional living in Southwest Florida.
OTHER COMMON ARTHRITIS TYPES
Some types of arthritis are considered inflammatory forms.
Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis and lupus are generally treated with 10 different types of medications in order to prevent joint and organ damage.
If you suspect you may have any type of arthritis, consult your primary care doctor, who can recommend another specialist, such as a rheumatologist or an orthopedist, if necessary.
The Arthritis Foundation has apps to track symptoms, exercise and other helpers, plus plenty of information, at arthritis.org.