Twenty eight-year-old Pooja Sharma was recently diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) -- a debilitating autoimmune disease, which causes inflammation and swelling in the joints and surrounding tissues, mostly in the wrist, knees, fingers, feet, and ankles. RA affects millions of people around the globe and is often seen affecting young people. Joint replacement surgeon Dr Nirad Vengsarkar says that arthritis, the most common forms of which are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, age-related degeneration or simply wear and tear of the joints, affects many people. "Women in their 30s especially are being diagnosed with arthritis. Of the joints affected by arthritis, the knees and fingers get affected early. Primary reasons of arthritis include genetic predisposition, obesity, inactivity, previous trauma leading to joint damage or ligament injuries, bow legs or knock knees -- childhood disorders that lead to bone malalignment causing joint degeneration," says Dr Vengsarkar.
Consultant orthopedic surgeon Dr Vijay D Shetty adds that a whopping 50% of the population have arthritis in one or more of their joints. "Rheumatoid arthritis is, perhaps, the commonest form of arthritis affecting young people. The exact cause is unknown. It starts as an inflammation of the lining of the joint, which slowly becomes uncontrollable, resulting in joint destruction. The common feature of all forms of arthritis is a loss of smoothness of joint surfaces so that low-friction movement is replaced by irregular, gritty, high-friction agony. The joint changes, in turn, can cause changes to the muscles and ligaments surrounding the joint. Therefore, patients can also feel pain in other areas such as the back or even the ankle," says Dr Shetty.
- Pain and stiffness are early symptoms. They usually start in the morning and last for about five to 10 minutes and decrease as the day progresses.
- Start-up pain -- pain after inactivity that goes away on movement are early signs
- Mild swelling
According to Dr Shetty, arthritis sufferers could opt for a range of treatments, including physiotherapy, aromatherapy, osteopathy, chiropractic, reflexology, acupuncture and a change in diet. "Treatment can be medical or surgical. Medical treatment involves prescription of drugs and other non-invasive therapies. Surgical solution can take many forms, starting from a less invasive joint injection to a more invasive, total joint replacement. There are several forms of joint injections, called viscosupplementation, available these days. These injections are meant to lubricate the joints, specially in young people with arthritis and can delay the progression of arthritis and thereby, delay surgical requirement. It is better, and often safer, to avoid surgery in the young. While surgery is not a pleasant prospect for people with debilitating arthritis, it could mean a major difference between leading a normal life and putting up with a debilitating condition. Joint replacement is widely performed these days in young patients and results are far superior to other surgical options. However, the artificial joint has its own life of approximately 15 to 20 years and, a revision surgery may eventually be needed," he says.
Affecting the young
Arthritis is a major cause for concern, particularly so when it affects young, earning members of a family. "It can occur in people when they are in their best years. This not only affects them, but their family, friends and work colleagues as well. Quality of life plummets, income can fall and treatment is regularly needed," says Dr Vijay D Shetty.
- Have a diet rich in calcium, protein, vitamin D and vitamin C. Calcium does not prevent arthritis, it allows the bone beneath the degenerated surface to resist deforming forces.
- Keep yourself fit. Engage in some sort of physical activity at least three to four times a week. This will keep your weight in check and also strengthen your muscles, which in turn helps slowing down arthritis progression.
- Swimming, cycling, elliptica and half squats in the gym are useful. Avoid running on hard surfaces.
- Active people who are into heavy weights and contact sports can develop arthritis early due to the large forces that their joints are subjected to. Once it sets in, activities like squatting, kneeling and sitting cross-legged on the floor should be avoided.
Times of India
© 2013 Bennett, Coleman & Company Limited