Many people walk into the office with sore stiff joints. Inevitably they are being treated with one or more painkillers to take the edge off. They may also have been told that this is a condition of aging and that they had better get used to it because it is not going anywhere. When I see this case in the office I always begin by asking if the person knows someone their age or older that is arthritis free. The answer that follows is almost always yes, with the exception of those who are the oldest person they know. The reason that people can age without developing arthritis is that it is not a disease of aging. Arthritis is a disease of degeneration, but degeneration and aging are different things. Just because you get older does not mean you have to fall apart. We aren’t all rewarded on our 60th birthday with the gift of arthritis. I have seen children who suffer from this condition as I have seen octogenarians with the same condition.
The common thread within arthritis is the degeneration of the protective coat of cartilage in the joints. When this ultra-smooth cartilage becomes damaged and rough, the joint no longer moves smoothly. Fluid can build up in the joint, resulting in swelling. Inflammatory products begin to be formed, leading to pain in the joints, often causing the joints to feel warm at the same time. These are the common signs of arthritis. Once the cartilage is damaged it begins to grind against itself causing further degeneration. Arthritis is an interesting disease as once it begins, it becomes a self-feeding disease. It is often traumatic injury that induces the initial damage to the tissue that then results in further damage with excess use. Please note the emphasis here is on excess use. One of the most important things you can do for your arthritic joints is to use them. The body repairs tissues that it needs and uses, it lets the unused be left in disrepair.
What can be done? I prefer to use herbal approaches to inflammation that address inflammation at a deeper level. Some of my favourite herbal interventions are turmeric, devil’s claw and boswellia. All of these herbs improve inflammation without impairing healing, this leads to less pain and more function in a joint. With all of that support one must also look into rebuilding the cartilage and a body that lacks the necessary building blocks will inevitably have impaired healing. One must analyze the requirements of the individual to see what deficiencies may exist that could impair the healing. This is the area where medicine becomes much more individualized and co-existing conditions must be considered in formulating and effective treatment plan.
Pain is not a necessary part of aging. Effective treatment is based on lifestyle modification; healthy diet, appropriate exercise, and in some cases nutrient supplementation to aid in repair and reconstruction of damaged tissues.
By: Dr Jonathan Beatty ND, Naturopath, Markham Integrative Medicine