October 12 is World Arthritis Day. This day falls on the same date every year and is meant to bring awareness to all about well – arthritis! In simple terms, arthritis is the inflammation of joints in the body. We often commonly think of arthritis to be an age-related condition, however there are other types of arthritis that individuals may experience, even at a younger age.
Here are some different types of Arthritis with some very simple descriptions:
Osteoarthritis (OA): OA is one of the most common forms of arthritis that people experience during their lifetimes. OA mostly occurs from overuse & injury. Osteoarthritis may occur in younger individuals that experience many injuries or are even incredibly active! However, this “wear and tear” of joints is commonly seen in elderly individuals. Common symptom of OA is pain at the affected joint, although sometimes swelling & redness may also occur.
Gout: Gout is most commonly recognized when it occurs at the joint of the “big toe”. Usually, gout presents as a “flare up” every so often. The pathophysiology behind gout lies in the accumulation of urate crystals in the joint, leading to increased inflammation of the joint. This can lead to redness, heat, swelling & severe pain at the affected joint. So how does the uric acid accumulate in the joint? It occurs when there are high levels or uric acid in the body. When levels accumulate, the uric acid can then begin to form crystals in and around the joints. Elevated uric acid levels are often associated with kidney disease as well, such as kidney stones – although, not always. Red meat, high fructose corn syrup and alcohol are a few common sources of uric acid.
Autoimmune Arthritis: Autoimmune disease as we know it is very complex. But, a simple way to describe autoimmune disease is that the immune system attacks healthy cells, because they recognize those healthy cells as foreign. Here are a few types of autoimmune disease that can manifest in the joints. The interesting point regarding autoimmune disease is that blood work markers & appropriate imaging (with particular signs) can help diagnose the specific autoimmune disease involved. Usually, if autoimmune disease is suspected, we run blood work to confirm and then refer the patient to a Rheumatologist – a medical doctor with a specialization in systemic autoimmune disease. The rheumatologist may then order more blood work and run imaging to diagnose the particular condition. There are also specific medications that have been shown through research to help manage autoimmune-related inflammation. In autoimmune disease in general family history (genetics) plays an important role.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): RA occurs when the immune system attacks itself, causing inflammation and swelling around the joints. Often, along with pain, joints on both sides of the body are affected and may also be accompanied by swelling. Also, RA may also present with pain & stiffness worse in the morning that may improve throughout the day.
Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA): PsA may occur in patients who are already diagnosed with psoriasis, a skin condition also found to be autoimmune in nature. Symptoms may be similar to gout & RA.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE): In addition to a variety of other symptoms, patients diagnosed with SLE, may also experience joint pain. The difference between SLE and RA is that the initial stages of SLE, the tissues affected are different from that of RA. Symptoms may be similar to RA, however the joints affected tend to be the joints that are more “distal to” (i.e. farther from) the centre of the body. For example: hands, feet, ankles, toes, fingers, etc. But, the disease can move to joints
Juvenile Arthritis (JA): JA occurs in children, hence the term “juvenile”. Sometimes, there is no knowledge of the cause (Idiopathic) and other times it is a RA found in children. This disease is incredibly painful for children as their bones are still growing at the age when they are diagnosed.
Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS): AS is joint inflammation in the spine, leading to chronic back pain. Often, parts of the spine cannot function as normal due to the arthritis in the spine, but also because sometimes, parts of the spine join together, limiting mobility for the patient.
So, how can Naturopathic Medicine help with arthritis?
Anti-inflammatory clinical nutrition recommendations
Lifestyle recommendations (physical activity, mental-emotional health, etc. Referrals available)
Guided supplementation, if required (and of course, ones that do not interfere with required medications)
Acupuncture for pain management
Other therapies that would be guided by laboratory findings
Please note that recommendations are not set out in a particular “protocol”, because every patient’s needs are different. Naturopathic integrative support encourages individualized adjunctive care.
If you are interested in learning more, I would encourage you to book a Complimentary Introductory 15-Minute Consult so you can get a better idea if Naturopathic Integrative support is right for you.