Back Behind the Wheel: Arthritis – the Result of Wear and Tear

by Dr. Jerry Singh

Do you feel stiff and achy when you first get out of bed in the morning? Do you find sitting for extended periods of time causes pain and aches in your knees, hip or back? Has kneeling, bending and stooping become increasingly difficult? How about walking or jogging? Do swollen, tender joints make it difficult for you to perform even simple tasks? If so, like over four million (or one in seven) Canadians, you may be suffering from arthritis.

Arthritis is a term used to describe over 100 different disorders. To understand the word arthritis we have to break it down into its two components. “Arthro” means joint and “itis” means inflammation. Therefore arthritis simply means inflammation of the joint. Arthritic conditions range from minor ailments such as gout or tendonitis (eg: tennis elbow) to more serious illnesses such as lupus or ankylosing spondylitis.

Arthritis is the number one cause of long term disability in Canada and if you live long enough you are likely to develop at least some form of this disease. Occasional aches and pains are not uncommon and are not always associated with an arthritic condition. However, when aches and pains become more persistent, frequent and severe, or if they begin to interfere with your everyday activities it may be time to consult a health professional. Early detection and treatment of arthritis is essential in controlling symptoms and limiting progression. Your health practitioner will take a complete history and perform a thorough physical examination to determine the cause of your pain. X-rays, blood work and other tests may also be required to reach a diagnosis.

In this column we will discuss Osteoarthritis, which is one of the most common types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is commonly confused with Rheumatoid arthritis and although these two diseases share some features in common, they are actually very different.

Let’s first take a quick look at rheumatoid arthritis to help distinguish between these two diseases. Rheumatoid arthritis is damage to the joints caused by inflammation or swelling of the membrane that lines the joint called the synovium. This swelling can affect the tissue and skin over the joint making it appear red, hot, deformed and swollen. Rheumatoid arthritis can also spread to affect other organs including the heart, lungs and eyes, and patients can experience generalized fatigue, malaise, weight loss and fever. Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects the same joints on both sides of the body and is commonly found in the fingers, hands, wrists, and legs.

Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis affects only the joints. It is a result of wear and tear on the joints and occurs when the cartilage between the bones wears down and the bones rub together. Abnormal stresses through the joint cause the cartilage to wear down and the joint to deteriorate. Because osteoarthritis is caused by excessive or abnormal wear and tear, the weight bearing joints, such as the knees, hips and spine are most commonly affected. Osteoarthritis is also common in joints that have been previously injured. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis seldom causes your joints to become hot and red.

It is estimated that over 16 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis. Initial symptoms usually come on slowly. You may notice some aches after exercising or stiffness when you first wake up. In fact many people who show signs of osteoarthritis on x-rays experience no noticeable pain whatsoever. Common symptoms include; joint pain and stiffness especially after periods of inactivity (ex: long drives, sleeping).

Gradually the pain will become more constant and as the joints wear down, crunching and grinding of the joints may be heard and this can eventually lead to deformity. X-rays help determine the extent of joint damage, confirm the diagnosis of osteoarthritis and help rule out other diseases.

Some factors that will increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis include: increased age, improper joint alignment, heredity, previous injury to the joint, obesity and overuse caused by physical or repetitive work. Basically anything that increases the stress through the joint will increase the chances of developing osteoarthritis. It has been shown that for every 10lbs of extra weight you carry, there is an extra 30-50lbs of stress going through your knees with every step you take. A 10-year study showed that overweight women who lost an average of 11lbs over 10 years decreased their risk of developing osteoarthritis by more than half compared to women who did not lose weight.

Another excellent way to decrease your likelihood of developing osteoarthritis is to ensure that you have proper muscle tone to support and protect your joints.

Most research shows that movement is important to keep joints healthy and to control the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis.

Regular chiropractic care can help maintain proper joint alignment and your chiropractor can assist you in developing strategies to control your symptoms and minimize the progression of your disease.

– Dr. Jerry Singh, B. Kin., D.C., runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 888 252-7327, or e-mail

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