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The painful truth about arthritis

September is Arthritis Awareness Month – a time to learn about the painful inflammatory condition. It exacts a high physical, mental and financial toll on Canadians.

Providence Health Care’s Kelly Kavanagh, Physiotherapy Outpatient Clinical Specialist & Certified Hand Therapist, explains the condition and how to manage and treat it.

According to the Arthritis Society of Canada, one in five Canadians has arthritis.

It affects the cartilage and connective tissues in and around your joints, causing pain and swelling and decreased function. If left untreated, it can lead to permanent damage to the joint(s) and to long-term disability.

Arthritis can affect anyone, of any age, but is most common in adults older than 65 years of age. By 2040, the incidence of arthritis is estimated to increase to one in four Canadians.

There are over 100 types of arthritis but osteoarthritis is the most common. The joints typically affected by osteoarthritis are the hips, knees, ankles, shoulders, wrists, hands, low back and neck.

A 2015 study that looked into the financial burdens of the disease found the projected cost of osteoarthritis in Canada from 2010 to 2031 is expected to increase from $2.9 billion to $7.6 billion.

Arthritis can affect the lower back, as well as the hips, knees, ankles, shoulders, wrists, hands, and neck

Given the projected cost to both patients (physical, mental and financial) and the Canadian health care system, what can be done?

Early diagnosis is key

Firstly, patients should communicate with their primary healthcare providers if they are having joint problems. Primary health care providers will assess and order any appropriate tests. Early diagnosis is valuable to provide early treatment and minimize long-term permanent joint damage.

Secondly, patients should get a referral to a rehabilitation specialist who treats arthritis. Such specialists may include a PT, and OT, and/or a certified hand therapist. These rehabilitation specialists can educate patients about arthritis and how to protect their joints.

Strategies may include splinting, bracing and using ergonomic tools like special can openers, pen attachments, and walking aids. In addition, patients can be taught pain management strategies, how to reduce inflammation, and how to safely strengthen the muscles surrounding their affected joint(s). Strong muscles help to support arthritic joints, which, in turn, help minimize or slow the degenerative process.

Activity vital

Keeping active is important as this will help to prevent weight gain and thus limit the amount of stress and strain on the weight-bearing joints (hips, knees, ankles).

Arthritis is a multifaceted disease, and many patients have complex care needs. As a result, patients may benefit from the skills of other practitioners, including surgeons, rheumatologists, nurses, NPs, dietitians, social workers, pharmacists and registered massage therapists.

A team approach to arthritis care can make a huge difference in helping patients manage this disease.