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  • Dr Alexandra Bernhardi

    Medical writer & columnist

    Email Dr Alexandra Bernhardi

    When the body aches...

    More people than ever are being diagnosed with arthritis, but there are ways to combat or reduce the pain, as Dr Alex Bernhardi explains.

    Did you wake up stiff and achy? Is your knee playing up and your back hurts?

    The amount of people who are diagnosed with arthritis is alarming.

    Sore joints can significantly affect our quality of life.

    It can lead to a high consumption of painkillers with often serious side effects. Or we dig deep in our pockets to buy various supplements.

    Our natural instinct is “to rest” and spend the weekend on the sofa. Unfortunately though this doesn’t seem to make it any better.

    We are looking for answers and think we might find them in an X-RAY.

    And yes, there we go, the report comes back telling us that we suffer from “degenerative changes”.

    That doesn’t sound good, it sounds sort of irreversible and now we are stuck. Nothing much we can do about it. Or can we?

    Arthritis means “inflammation of a joint” and there are different forms of it.

    The main ones are “osteoarthritis”, often called “wear and tear”, the other is “rheumatoid arthritis”.

    If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis it is very important to see your GP as if left untreated it can lead to severe joint destruction and deformity.

    If you think you might have arthritis you should check the following things:

    YOUR WEIGHT: Not only does too much weight put a mechanical strain on your joints, but excess body fat also leads to increased inflammation.

    Other often associated medical conditions such as diabetes or high uric acid (“gout”) also add onto this.

    YOUR LEVEL OF ACTIVITY – OR LACK OF IT: It is essential that your muscles are as strong as possible to off load the joints.

    Exercise will also help to reduce inflammation by improving the circulation and nutrition of the cells of your joints.

    It helps to lower blood sugar and has many other positive effects on the health of each of your individual cells.

    Cairns offers many free activity opportunities such as the fitness equipment, the free classes and the Lagoon at the Esplanade.

    As a general rule, any exercise is better than none.

    If you have been rather inactive lately you should start slow and gradually increase the time and effort you put into your exercise.

    Activities such as TaiChi, Yoga and water based exercises are well studied and were found to be beneficial in the management of osteoarthritis.

    If you are unsure you can always talk to your GP.

    Your GP might also refer you to an Exercise Physiologist who can help finding the most suitable activities for you and recommend modification if your joints are acutely inflamed.

    YOUR DIET IS THE CORNERSTONE OF YOUR HEALTH: Food can either be helpful or harmful for your joints.

    The particular fats used in fast food (including many of the processed foods in the supermarket) have a pro-inflammatory effect on the body, while certain fresh unprocessed foods will help the body to resolve inflammation.

    Here are some important food groups that you should consider to include in your diet:

    - fatty fish (omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties)
    - olive oil (contains oleocanthal, a molecule which is also anti-inflammatory)
    - whole grains (consider older varieties such as quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat – this reduces risk of intolerance)
    - citrus fruit for high vitamin C (this is an anti-oxidant)
    - green tea (rich in polyphenol, an antioxidant which is believed to slow down cartilage destruction)
    - spices and herbs such as turmeric and ginger and (these are naturally anti-inflammatory)
    - garlic
    - fermented food (to help your gut cultivate the good bacterias)
    - bone broth (provides you with calcium, magnesium, chondroitin, glucosamine etc.)
    - broccoli

    (If you have other medical concerns and find this advice conflicting please talk to your GP or dietitian first.)

    There is no single management strategy that fits everybody and despite all attempts to adjust our lifestyle we are often left with pain.

    Dietary supplements and herbal medicines (such as Boswellia, Willow Bark, Rosehip, Comfrey or Devil’s Claw) have been successfully used to reduce pain.

    Care needs to be taken to choose a supplement of high quality and with the right amount of active ingredients.

    This is not always standardised and can be very confusing given the high number of brands on the market.

    Pharmaceutical painkillers can be used either to reduce your level of pain or to help to suppress the level of inflammation in the initial acute phase.

    All of these approaches should be discussed with your GP as they can potentially interact with other medical conditions or lead to side effects.

    Take home message: Exercise and healthy diet go a long way to keep your joints healthy!