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Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting an estimated 8.5 million people in the UK. Here,
cartilage (connective tissue) between the bones gradually wastes away, leading to painful rubbing of bone on bone in the joints. It most commonly develops in people over the age of 50 but can develop at any age as a result of an injury or another joint-related condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a more severe condition caused by a fault in the immune system which makes the body attack its own tissues, causing pain and swelling to occur. This can lead to a reduction in movement and the breakdown of bone and cartilage.
According to NHS Choices, rheumatoid arthritis is more likely to start between the age of 40 and 50, and women are three times more likely to be affected than men.
A healthy, well-balanced diet is essential for arthritis sufferers, not least because being over weight can make the symptoms worse. Carrying extra weight only adds pressure to the weight-bearing joints such as the hips, knees and ankles.
The charity Arthritis Care advises that if you are overweight, reducing the size of your portions and ensuring that half of your plate is made up of vegetables, with the remainder split evenly between carbohydrates and protein should help you to lose a few pounds. Cutting down on alcohol (which contains plenty of calories) will also aid weight loss.
As those with osteoarthritis are often prone to developing osteoporosis, it's important to make sure you get enough calcium (dairy is a good source) in your diet.
Some studies suggest that eating oily fish twice a week can help people with arthritis. It is thought that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, contained in oily fish, could ease the symptoms of inflammatory arthritis.
Though there is no decisive proof of the link between diet and a worsening of arthritis symptoms, sufferers may find certain foods help to reduce the pain and inflammation. However, if you decide to cut out specific food items or types of food, supplements may be necessary to ensure you are getting the nutrients your body needs and, if you decide to try a "special diet", always check with your GP first.
Arthritis Care advises that a good exercise programme should involve range of movement (to maintain flexibility and good posture), strengthening exercises (stronger muscles surrounding the joints will help to support them) and aerobic exercise to strengthen the heart, allowing your muscles to work more efficiently.
Many sufferers find they benefit from walking, cycling, swimming or yoga but simple activities such as walking to the shops, gardening or even washing up to loosen the finger joints may also help. However, it is vital that you do not overstrain yourself - a little pain to begin with is not uncommon but it is advisable to talk to your doctor or a physiotherapist before embarking on an exercise programme as they will be able to suggest exercises to suit your specific problems.
The pain of arthritis can make even the simplest, everyday tasks seem impossible. But with a few changes you can make life a little easier and reduce your chances of damaging the joints further.
For instance, though staying active is important, rest is equally vital and finding the balance between the two will ensure that you are not making things worse with exercise.
Simple changes such as not gripping objects too tightly, or using stronger joints (like the shoulder) to open doors will enable you to cope with more and, where possible, try to shift rather than lift heavy things.
Though it may be tempting, try not to sit in the same position for long periods of time - take regular breaks during the day and move around in order to prevent the joints stiffening up.
Above all, don't be afraid to talk about your feelings. As a long-term condition, arthritis can be very emotionally stressful, as well as painful, so seek support from your GP, friends and family and support groups.
If you need someone to talk to, Arthritis Care runs a free, confidential helpline providing emotional and practical support from 10am - 4pm, Monday to Friday. Ring freephone on 0808 800 4050 for a chat or email Helplines@arthritiscare.org.uk.
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