Musculoskeletal pain, especially joint and back pain, is the most common type of chronic pain. The most common cause of joint pain is related to arthritis, of which there are numerous types.
Patients routinely seek medical attention for joint pain, and it is one of the leading causes of disability. About 30 percent of adults report some form of joint pain within the prior 30 days, with the knee joint being the most common site. Data from the European Health Interview Surveys in seven countries demonstrated a wide variation in prevalence of doctor-diagnosed osteoarthritis, ranging from 5 percent to 25 percent (age-standardized range 3 percent to 18 percent).
The knee, hand, and hip are common sites of osteoarthritis. Below, Dr. Azam Fayyad discusses the most common forms of joint pain and what you can do to prevent it.
Arthritis: A common joint pain concern
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, accounting for more disability among the elderly than any other disease. The disease involves the whole joint, is related to maladaptive repair responses resulting in pathologic changes in numerous joint tissues, and increases in prevalence with age. Not all individuals with radiographically evident disease experience pain. Symptomatic osteoarthritis generally affects from 10 percent to 15 percent of populations worldwide.
Low back pain can be related to osteoarthritic changes in the spine, although the etiology of low back pain is multifactorial and not necessarily related to arthritis. The heterogeneous nature of low back pain is also reflected in its reported point prevalence, ranging from 8 percent to 39 percent of the population, and lifetime prevalence has been reported to vary from 60 percent to 85 percent. Many people will experience one or more episodes of low back pain in their lives.
Gout, a crystal-related arthritis, is now the most common form of inflammatory arthritis. It is characterized by acute painful flares that eventually can become a chronic arthritis. Gout presently affects 1 percent to 4 percent of various populations around the world, with some populations, such as those of Maori ancestry, having a higher prevalence (6 percent).
Rheumatoid arthritis, the most common form of an autoimmune systemic inflammatory arthritis, is characterized by a typically symmetric polyarthritis with joint pain, swelling, and substantial morning stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis presently affects less than 1 percent of populations worldwide. In terms of global years lived with disability, low back pain ranked first, neck pain ranked fourth, osteoarthritis ranked eleventh, and other musculoskeletal disorders ranked sixth.
Further, these effects were fairly consistent through the different geographic regions. Thus, worldwide, joint pain and other musculoskeletal conditions are responsible for a substantial public health burden. In addition to contributing to pain, these conditions are associated with functional limitations, participation restrictions, and disability.
Further, some arthritis conditions have been associated with increased mortality, either directly related to the underlying arthritis, the associated comorbidities, adverse outcomes, and/or adverse events related to medications.
Why women should be extra cautious
Joint pain affects many people as they get older and is also common among menopausal women. Aches, stiffness and swelling around the joint and sometimes heat are typical symptoms of menopausal joint pain. These may be worse in the morning, improving as the day continues.
Joints which experience high impact such as the hips and knees tend to be most affected by this so called ’menopausal arthritis.’ Hands and fingers can also be affected. High impact exercise such as jogging can exacerbate the problem, although this is often eased with rest.
The hormone oestrogen has an important role in maintaining joint and bone health. It is not certain how it does this, but it is thought that it works by minimising swelling around the joint. As you reach the menopause, levels of oestrogen in your body begin to drop. This gives rise to common menopause symptoms including hot flushes and night sweats, and may also result in swollen and painful joints.
Dehydration can also cause joint pain because of a build up of uric acid which can cause inflammation in your joints. Oestrogen is also important for regulating fluid levels in your body, and with falling levels of the hormone, you find that your body is unable to retain water efficiently.
What can you do to reduce stress on your joints?
Diet can have a positive influence on your joint health. Many fruit and vegetables have properties which reduce inflammation. Having a balanced diet is not only healthy and will help you with many menopause symtoms, but will keep your weight in check.
It is important to reduce the pressure of repetitive strain, such as jogging on hard roads, to protect your joints. At the same time though, keeping them flexible will reduce joint pain. Some exercises such as yoga and swimming are beneficial for strengthening your muscles and joints without exerting too much pressure on them.
Calcium is particularly important as it keeps your bones strong and healthy. As you are going through the menopause you may find a calcium supplement beneficial. However, for calcium to be absorbed into your bloodstream effectively, it is important to also have a high intake of magnesium, achieved by including nuts, wholegrains and dried fruit into your diet. Alternatively, taking a calcium and magnesium supplement would provide some of the same benefits. Some women find that taking magnesium on its own is very effective, as it helps to relax tense muscles.
How to Alleviate Joint Pain
Stress, surprisingly, can have a negative effect on your joint health. If you are experiencing a lot of stress, your body will release high quantities of the hormone cortisol. This hormone works as an inflammatory agent, and so high levels of stress during the menopause will only make your joint pain worse. It is important if you tend to experience stress to take time to relax every day.
Alternative treatments such as massage or acupuncture help many women with their joint pain symptoms. They directly target the area of pain in order to ease the symptom.
If you'd like to come in for a consultation, please contact 800MEDCARE to set up an appointment with our Orthopedics & Spine Hospital.