What is Arthritis? Symptoms and Treatment Options for Arthritis Patients


What is arthritis? Few of us understand arthritis and the muscular degeneration it entails, let alone know how to prevent it. The word arthritis — derived from the Greek words ‘Artho’ and ‘Itis’ which mean joints and inflammation respectively — is an umbrella term for nearly 100 medical conditions which affect the human muscular and skeletal system adversely.

Therefore, in a nutshell, arthritis can be defined as inflammation of joints which results in pain, weakness, instability, and bone deformities that interfere with our daily lives. Joint tissues cover the ends of bones and allow them to move against one another. When the tissues are inflamed or damaged, movement becomes problematic and painful.

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Symptoms and Treatment Options for Arthritis Patients

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“Constant joint pain is the main complaint of patients suffering from arthritis,” says Dr. Masud. “It is often constant and arises due to inflammation of or damage around the joints as well daily wear and tear. Muscle strain caused by forceful movements against stiff joints can also cause arthritic pain.”

Symptoms of arthritis

The National Rheumatology Society of Pakistan has issued a list of symptoms common to undiagnosed arthritis patients. These include:

  1. • Morning stiffness
  2. • Malaise and tiredness
  3. • Weight loss
  4. • Poor sleeping patterns
  5. • Muscle and joint aches
  6. • Tenderness
  7. • Muscle weakness
  8. • Loss of flexibility
  9. • Decreased aerobic fitness
  10. • Inability to move hands or walk properly
  11. • Difficulty in moving joints

Treatment options for arthritis patients

Since arthritis is a chronic condition, there is no absolute cure except prevention and care. Logically speaking, the only treatment is anything that can prevent the joints from swelling or promotes muscle movement. Physical therapy, for example, has been proven to improve bone function, decrease pain and delay the need for surgical intervention significantly. Regular exercises prescribed by doctors are particularly effective in counteracting osteoarthritis of the knees — even more so than medication. According to Dr. Khan’s report, maintaining a normal weight can also reduce joint stress and delay the onset of osteoarthritis.

In general, medicinal treatment depends on the type of arthritis at hand and how advanced it might be. “For those who suffer from osteoarthritis, early treatment is key,” advises Dr. Masud. “Painkillers can be administered to curtail the pain. Combinations of glucosamine chondroitin sulfate vitamins are also recommended.” Regardless, medicines can only reduce joint pain and do not help everyone. “Medicines didn’t help me much,” admits Shamsi. “I underwent many different medical experiments and even visited hakims but to no avail. Sometimes, the pain became so bad that I was bedridden for days.”

As in Shamsi’s case, rheumatoid arthritis is autoimmune which means that a patient’s immune system attacks and destroys healthy tissue along with unhealthy ones. “This is a disease and requires a specific treatment,” explains Dr. Masud. “Ultimately, it leads to a joint replacement surgery.” Disease-modifying, anti-rheumatic drugs are administered, along with regular medication, as they work on the immune system and slow down the progression of the disease.

Sadly, even these special drugs failed to help Shamsi, even though she was selected as part of a clinical trial by German and American doctors. “The other patients in the trial responded to the medicines immediately,” says Shamsi of her experience. “But my pain returned after a few days. Eventually, I found peace with allopathic medication and can now manage my life on my own.”

Laser therapy is another option arthritis patients can consider. Studies have proved it to be effective, resulting in zero joint pain and improved mobility. Orthopedic bracing can also provide support to aching joints.