By Faraaz Tanveer
Managing the debilitating affliction of arthritis becomes easier if you follow some simple lifestyle tips
It usually starts as a little stiffness or soreness in the joint, which disappears by mid morning. Before long, though, the joint becomes painful, a bit swollen, and maybe even feels warm to the touch. Everyday chores become a challenge, and the quality of life takes a plunge. Conventional Western medicine provides many treatments, but no cure.
The word arthritis means inflammation of the joint. In Greek, arth means joint and tis means inflammation.
The problem is that in many kinds of arthritis the joint is not inflamed. A better description might be problem with the joint.
Causes and types
The joints of the human body are not like that of a robot. They cannot be oiled when they feel stiff. Yet, the joints in your body are mechanical parts and when they no longer move easily and smoothly they do not work effectively and comfortably. What causes the pain? What causes the stiffness? What can you do about it?
The specific causes of various forms of arthritis are not known. Some of the causes could be genetic factors, disorders of the immune system, and poor blood circulation. According to Ayurveda, dryness of the joints occurs when the nervous system becomes aggravated and overactive. In this condition, the synovial mucous membrane, which acts as a lubricating substance between the joints, is diminished.
Some factors, which increase the chances of developing arthritis, are:
• Gender – Women are more prone to arthritis than men.
• Age – Chances of developing arthritis increase with the age.
• Work factors – Work needing heavy lifting and repetitive movements stresses the joints, sometimes leading to injury. As a result, susceptibility to arthritis is increased.
• Obesity – Overweight could be a major cause as the extra weight puts a load on the weight-bearing joints like knees.
Some of the most common forms of arthritis are:
Osteoarthritis: This is degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease (DJD). It occurs when the cushioning cartilage in a joint breaks down. Commonly affected areas are neck, shoulders, hands, feet, knees, hips, and fingers.
Rheumatoid arthritis: In rheumatoid arthritis the body’s immune system attacks the synovial membrane of the joints. Joint damage can become severe and deforming. It may involve the whole body, and also cause fatigue, weight loss and anaemia.
Gout arthritis: Gout arthritis is a metabolic disorder caused by accumulation of uric acid in the blood with crystals forming in the joints and other places. Usually the sudden attack manifests in the big toe but other joints could also be affected.
The common symptoms of the disease include pain or tenderness in joint, persistent joint pain, loss of flexibility, or range of motion in a joint, deformity, inflammation and early morning stiffness. In some cases, these symptoms are accompanied with fever, weight loss and tiredness.
Certain dietary alterations in arthritic conditions are helpful. Avoid junk food and crash diets, increase intake of liquids and calcium rich foods, eat in moderation to avoid weight gain. Some foods like ginger, garlic, turmeric and apples have anti-inflammatory properties, and could help in reducing inflammation. So also unsalted almonds, walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds which are rich in omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin E. Avoid coffee, tea, fried foods, tomatoes, red meat, bananas, curds and chocolate.
Exercise plays an important role in the management of arthritis. It reduces stiffness and joint pain, increases muscle strength, endurance and flexibility. Exercises also help in weight loss.
Before exercising, massage the affected joints and apply hot or cold compress. Exercises are of three types:
• Strengthening exercises: These exercises help to increase muscle strength, protect, and support the joints. Do the exercises daily, but avoid if there is severe pain or swelling in the joints.
• Range of motion exercises: These exercises maintain the flexibility of the joints and relieve stiffness. These exercises can be performed every day.
• Aerobic or endurance exercises: These exercises improve overall function, cardiovascular fitness, help in reducing weight, and reduce inflammation in the joints. You can do this for 20-30 minutes thrice a week.
Take care to do the exercises in a gentle way. Do not rush and allow a few minutes to elapse before starting the next one. This helps to relax the muscles. After exercising, relax for ten minutes, and walk around slowly. This helps to relieve joint pain.
Regular practice of certain asanas removes rigidity and brings flexibility to joints. It also tones the muscles and normalises blood circulation in the affected areas. As a result, the supply of synovial fluid (joint fluid) is restored, and the rigidity and pain are removed. Recommended asanas for arthritis are Santulan Asana, Trikona Asana, Veera Asana, Gomukh Asana, Vriksha Asana, Setubandh Asana, Siddha Asana, Natraja Asana and Shava Asana. Practise Santulan Asana first and follow it up with Trikona Asana. These sets of asanas activate the major and minor joints. Combine them with practice of yoga nidra, pranayama and meditation for better results.
Other holistic treatments
Acupressure: Acupressure on a daily basis helps to improve blood circulation in the affected joints.
Acupuncture: Each pain-inflicted area of the body has a connected acupuncture pressure point. Regular sessions of acupuncture treatments aid pain relief.
Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy treatment can relieve pain by helping the body learn to heal itself. Aromatherapy includes oils like rosemary, lavender, ginger, juniper, chamomile, and eucalyptus. You can use therapy oils in numerous ways including mixing a few drops with bath water, as a perfume, inhaling the vapours, or mixing the oils for a full body massage.
Bodywork: Bodywork is another holistic treatment for arthritis used to restore the body to a natural posture. A rigorous course of body massage and movement re-education, bodywork has displayed evidence of reduction in some of the physical limitationsbrought on by arthritis.
Juice therapy: Fruit juices, particularly black cherry juice, rich in beta-carotene are useful for reducing pain. Other useful ones are juice of carrot, potato, radish, lemon and beetroot.
Arthritis has no cure, but you can cope and manage it successfully with a judicious mix of exercise, diet and relaxation techniques.
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