Osteoarthritis
and joint pains


The human joint is a miracle of engineering; efficient way beyond any manmade imitation. When healthy, it is virtually friction-free, self-lubricating and self-repairing - adjusting automatically to changes in movement, weight and stress. Given optimum conditions, it can function without problems or interruptions for a hundred years.

This being the case, why do so many people suffer from joint problems? What are the "optimum conditions" required for a life of trouble-free service?

WHAT IS OSTEOARTHRITIS?

Osteoarthritis is the exaggerated normal ageing process of joints - and as such, is more accurately described as 'osteoarthrosis'. (In medical terms -itis describes an inflammatory process, whilst -osis is used for a degenerative condition.) The process is well under way by the time any symptoms appear, and starts with gradual roughening and wearing of the previously very smooth cartilage inside the joint. At this point, there is usually some 'grating' from the joint and also progressive stiffness, usually in the morning or after exercise. The joints also become more vulnerable to strains, which take increasingly longer to heal.

As the problem becomes worse, there is involvement of the joint capsule and its lining, causing swelling, stiffness and discomfort, which are present on a more permanent basis. Symptoms are usually worse after rest, improving initially with movement, then recurring again after progressively shorter periods of exercise. 80% of adults over 50 years of age have evidence of this degree of joint degeneration.

Advanced osteoarthritis leaves the joints with little or no cartilage, and causes enlargement and distortion of the bony outlines, sometimes associated with mild inflammation around the supporting ligaments. At this stage there is permanent disability and significant pain, which may eventually necessitate surgical intervention.

WHY DO ONLY SOME PEOPLE SUFFER FROM OSTEOARTHRITIS?

There are a number of factors:

a. Genetics - if your parents were sufferers then you are more likely to suffer also.

b. Exercise - reasonable amounts of exercise help to maintain joint health. However excessive exercise increases your rate of degeneration. Sportsmen, keep-fit enthusiasts, and dancers have a very high incidence of joint degeneration, usually starting at quite a young age.

c. History of injury. Previous injury to the joint itself or to the bones close to it can cause extra strain on the area and lead to problems many years later. This applies not only to serious strains and fractures, but also to the small repeated strains sustained by sportsmen and dancers.

d. Nutrition Nutritional deficiencies of many kinds can predispose to early degeneration in all body systems. Serious disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, Crohn's disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome etc. can have disastrous effects on the joints. Less obviously, years of restricted diets for weight control, food allergies and so forth can also wreak havoc with bone and cartilage.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO PREVENT AND TREAT OSTEOARTHRITIS?

a. Exercise moderately Keep joints flexible and muscles strong by exercising regularly, but avoid doing only 'high-impact' exercise for long periods of time. Alternate with 'low-impact' activities such as swimming and non-weightbearing gym work or Pilates exercise. Ballroom dancing is an ideal exercise for maintaining bone density, especially as it can be continued indefinitely.

b. Avoid injuries An intelligent approach to exercise will minimise injuries. Should problems occur, be sure to allow enough time for full recovery, and seek professional advice if symptoms persist.

c. Eat sensibly Eating a wide range of foods regularly helps to maintain good general nutrition. Some foods have particular properties which make them especially valuable e.g. oily fish (mackerel, salmon, pilchards, herring) flaxseed/linseed oil, fruit especially blueberries, bilberries, cranberries and tomatoes.

d. Maintain a sensible weight

e. Check for Food Allergies Severe joint problems can be due to food sensitivities. Consult a health professional for screening.

f. Take regular supplements Individuals who are at high risk of developing osteoarthritis or those who are already sufferers can often benefit from taking regular nutritional supplements.

WHICH SUPPLEMENTS ARE USEFUL?

There are many substances which can help, but do not try everything at once - you might have difficulty deciding which was responsible for the improvement. Take any supplement regularly for 3 months before assessing its effectiveness.

a. Glucosamine and Chondroitin These are naturally occurring substances which help to maintain and repair joint cartilage. Particularly effective when combined with shark cartilage. Glucosamine and Chondroitin are two of the most thoroughly researched supplements, and are widely available - however, quality varies enormously between brands.

b. Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5) This vitamin is used by the body to produce its own anti-inflammatory hormones.

c. D-L Phenylalanine (DLPA) DLPA acts as a natural pain suppressant, which has none of the disadvantages of commonly used anti-inflammatory/pain killers.

d. Manganese Manganese is believed to reduce degenerative joint damage.

e. Antioxidants These substances help protect joints from damage caused by environmental and internal pollution, excessive exercise and bad diet. They include Vitamins A, C and E, Selenium, certain plant extracts and MSM (methyl sulphonyl methane).

f. Fish and Flax Seed Oils These are thought to improve joint lubrication and reduce inflammation.

g. Green-lipped Mussel Extract ('Seatone', 'Musseltone') Produced in New Zealand, this is a useful anti-inflammatory, with few reported side effects. It is often helpful for individuals with advanced degenerative changes.

A very good supplement is Eminence Joint Nutrition

This article is part of and should be seen in the frame context of Dancesport UK