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How to address the inflammation of arthritis

June 23, 2021 8 min read

When people talk about arthritis the picture they usually have in mind is gnarly swollen looking knuckles and a sore crunchy sounding knee, probably in a person over the age of 60. In actual fact there are more than 100 types of arthritis but not all appear as that typical picture. People of all ages and genders can experience some form of arthritis. 


Arthritis is a general term for joint pain – 'arthro' meaning joint and 'itis' meaning inflammation. 

The most common symptoms of arthritis are swelling, pain, stiffness and a range of motion that is decreased [4]. They can vary in severity, may get worse over time and the symptoms may come and go. Arthritis can usually be seen by x-ray and can result in permanent joint changes if it is not addressed. 


Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. Between the ends of the bones which come together to form the joint, a cushioning layer sits which is called cartilage. This layer can wear away which then causes the bones to rub against each other causing inflammation. The joint loses strength and chronic pain can occur. The most common areas which osteoarthritis can occur are the knees, hands, hips and the spine but it can affect any joint. Typical treatments are hot/cold therapy, over the counter pharmaceutical pain relievers, natural therapies and regular exercise to keep the surrounding supportive muscles strong. Some people do go on to need joint replacement surgery. The ways osteoarthritis can be prevented is to keep active, maintain a healthy weight, eat a nutritious diet and avoid injuries. 


Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis (usually found in the lower backs of the young) are examples of another type of arthritis which is inflammatory in nature. With inflammatory types of arthritis, the immune system is mistakenly attacking the joints with uncontrolled inflammation – something we call autoimmunity. With autoimmunity, the body is attacking its own cells, thinking that they are cells that shouldn't be there [5]. This same inflammation can also damage internal organs, eyes and other parts of the body. Normally a healthy immune system is protective by getting rid of infection and preventing disease. A combination of genetics and environmental factors can trigger autoimmunity. Some of these factors are smoking, being overweight, a poor diet, low vitamin D level and gluten-containing foods but new causes are being identified regularly.

Early diagnosis is important for this type of disease for the best chance for recovery and prevention of permanent joint changes.  Reducing the inflammation and over-reaction of the immune system is very important. This can be done through the use of pharmaceutical medication as well as addressing the environmental factors. Natural medicine and therapies can also have great success addressing inflammatory arthritis.


Infective arthritis occurs when bacterium, virus or fungus can enter the joint and trigger inflammation in response [6]. In many cases, treatment with anti-microbials can clear the joint infection, but sometimes the arthritis becomes chronic. As with inflammatory arthritis, early detection is important and allows for a better outcome.


Metabolic arthritis, which is more commonly known as gout, is caused by high levels of a naturally occurring compound called uric acid [7]. Uric acid is formed from purines. Some people's bodies make this uric acid faster than their body can clear it. When this happens, uric acid builds up and forms needle-like crystals in the joint. This causes the extreme pain known to those who have a gout attack. The location of this type of arthritis is usually in the toe but it can occur in the knees, ankles and elbows. It is possible for it to appear in the wrists, fingers and shoulder but it is not common. Gout can come and go in episodes but it can become chronic, causing ongoing pain and disability. The best way to address gout is to eat a nutritious diet which is low in purines and to ensure hydration through good amounts of water consumption. Gout medication is also available which can be discussed with medical practitioners. 


So, it is obvious that arthritis is not as simple as just an age related condition resulting from the wear and tear that joints experience over time. The main takeaway from this information so far is that inflammation is an underlying factor of arthritis. Whether the inflammation is causing it or is a result of other triggers, to address arthritis, it must be addressed to help prevent further damage and to minimise the symptoms.


What are the methods for reducing inflammation?

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) – these medications, often found over-the-counter but can also be prescribed, are common pain-relievers. Common examples are ibuprofen and aspirin. As well as helping to reduce pain, they also reduce inflammation. They are effective for most people but, as with all medications, they do come with side effects. The most known side effect is gut irritation, causing diarrhoea, nausea and also raised liver enzymes [8]. It is important to inform medical practitioners of regular use of NSAIDs and inform them when possible side effects are experienced.


Corticosteroids – this class of drugs reduces inflammation and also immune system activity. They can be taken orally which works on the whole body. Another option is to inject it directly into the affected joint. Corticosteroids can also be effective for most people but the side effects that occur are much more common than with NSAIDs. These side effects are fluid retention, blood pressure problems, mood swings, sleeping trouble, weight gain, blood sugar problems, weakened bones and an increased chance of picking up infections [9]. For all of these reasons, corticosteroids are often used only short term for major flare ups. 


Topical anti-inflammatories – this type of treatment delivers anti-inflammatory compounds directly to the site of the inflammation. This is a good option for people who experience the side effects from the treatments listed above.. They can be medicated products or can be more natural using herbs and essential oils. It is also a good option for joints that are smaller or when only one or two joints are affected. It does not give the anti-inflammatory benefit to the whole body as a trade off for less side effects. The possible side effects that can be experienced with topical treatments are thinning of the skin or rashes. 


Anti-inflammatory diet – There is no doubt that eating foods which promote inflammation can make arthritis worse. Some of the foods that can promote inflammation and make pain levels worse are sugar/sugar containing foods, processed meats, margarine, vegetable oils, nightshade vegetables (potato, capsicum, tomato, eggplant and chillies), refined carbohydrates, gluten and alcohol [10]. An anti-inflammatory diet is based on fruits, vegetables, oily fish, beans, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, olives and olive oil. Anti-inflammatory diets, for example the Mediterranean or DASH diets, are high in fibre, phytonutrients, good fats and antioxidants. This type of diet has been well studied to promote the best health, reduce inflammation and slow age and inflammatory related health conditions [11]. 


Therapeutic devices – Many of the therapeutic devices for arthritis work on the neurological systems in the body to change the nerve responses to pain. These are known as ENAR (Electro-Neuro-Adaptive-Regulator), EMS (electronic muscle stimulation) or TENS (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machines. They are a safe technology with no side effects. They can definitely be effective for pain reduction but they do not address the inflammation. Where these devices do help to reduce pain levels, it is not through their action of reducing inflammation. Infrared technology devices to reduce inflammation. Because it stands out from the other devices in this category, it deserves its own section. 


Infrared technology – This technology was first used for the benefit of health in the 1950's. Studies have shown that infrared light decreases pain, inflammation, and oxidative stress [1]. Oxidative stress occurs when there is more oxidation in the body than there is antioxidants. Oxidation occurs from both external events and internal events – it can't be avoided but it can be balanced out. Infrared technology is one way this can be achieved. Studies have also shown that this type of light can improve the blood flow within the small blood vessels and promote angiogenesis. Angiogenesis is the formation of new blood vessels. By increasing blood flow to the affected joints the body is able to get the nutrients and cells to the area to allow the tissues to heal.  


Infrared also supports the mitochondria of the cells [2]. Healthy mitochondria supports healthy cells. This increases ATP in the cells. ATP is the energy carrying molecule found in all living things.  It has also been found that infrared increases nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator which improves blood flow. It also helps to relax muscles and can help to modulate the immune system. Studies show that infrared light can improve pain levels by 50% without any side effects in a non-invasive and easy way [12]. Another study showed improved pain levels, stiffness and fatigue in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis [3]. Even better, they had this benefit without any worsening of their disease activity.  


Infrared technology is a safe and effective technology to help address all types of arthritis. Unlike most at home devices, it actually addresses it by reducing the inflammation instead of just changing the way the nerve system perceives it. It also had no side effects to worry about [13]. 


The more understanding there is of the causes of arthritis, the better the ability there will be to address it. Until then, reducing inflammation is one thing every sufferer of arthritis must do. Finding the right method with the least amount of side effects will give the best opportunity to prevent further damage and minimise those frustrating symptoms. 


References


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6131272/, The effect of far infrared radiation therapy on inflammation regulation in lipopolysaccharide-induced peritonitis in mice, AIMS Biophysics Publication, Sage Open Medicine Publication,Yuanmay Chang, September, 2018

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5523874/,Mechanisms and applications of the anti-inflammatory effects of photobiomodulation, Michael R Hamblin, July 2017

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1727843/, Infrared sauna in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, Journal of American Geriatrics Society Publication,Fredrikus G J Oosterveld et. al., January, 2009

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350772, Arthritis, The May Clinic, 

  1. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/what-are-common-symptoms-of-autoimmune-disease, What are the common symptoms of Autoimmune disease, Johns Hopkins Medicine

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bone-and-joint-infections/symptoms-causes/syc-20350755, Septic Arthritis, The Mayo Clinic

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gout/symptoms-causes/syc-20372897, Gout, The Mayo Clinic

  1. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/medications-non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory-drugs, Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, Better Health Channel, Victorian Government, April, 2019

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/steroids/art-20045692, Prednisone and other corticosteroids, The Mayo Clinic, December, 2020

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation, Foods that fight inflammation, Harvard Health Publishing, August, 2020

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5682732/, Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis with Dietary Interventions, Frontiers in Nutrition Publication,Shweta Khanna, Kumar Sagar Jaiswal, and Bhawna Gupta, November 2017
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1727843/,Improvement of pain and disability in elderly patients with degenerative osteoarthritis of the knee treated with narrow-band light therapy,Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, J Stelian, I Gil, B Habot, M Rosenthal, I Abramovici, N Kutok, A Khahil, January, 1992
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3926176/,A Controlled Trial to Determine the Efficacy of Red and Near-Infrared Light Treatment in Patient Satisfaction, Reduction of Fine Lines, Wrinkles, Skin Roughness, and Intradermal Collagen Density Increase,Photomedicine and Laser Surgery Publication, Alexander Wunsch and Karsten Matuschka, February, 2014



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