If only you could just “Snap Out of It!” when you have back pain. But, that persistent backache that you’ve attributed to pulled muscles or neck strain may very well be osteoarthritis, the most common kind of arthritis no matter what your age. See the best diet for osteoarthritis at the end of this, as that also plays a role.
According to doctors, X-ray screening of the spine will uncover degenerative arthritic changes in 95 percent of people over the age of 50 — yet not all will have back pain, at least not right away.
When spinal arthritis does affect the nerves and disks, the result can be persistent, excruciating pain that affects quality of life.
And when your back hurts, you’ll do just about anything to feel better: In 2005, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that Americans spent $85.9 billion dollars seeking relief.
Luckily, if you do have arthritis, new treatment options are becoming available. Here are five telltale signs that your back pain is caused by arthritis:
1. Pain that comes on gradually and worsens over time
Typically, back pain that’s not osteoarthritis comes on suddenly and results in an excruciating attack that may leave you immobilized but gradually improves as the underlying problem heals.
Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, may start with a twinge here, a twinge there, and before you know it you have a backache almost every day.
What it feels like: Acute pain or overall achiness in one or more parts of your back. Pain due to osteoarthritis may come and go; you may feel better for a few weeks or months, and then the pain comes back worse than before.
Why it happens: The cartilage between the vertebrae wears down, causing the bones to rub against each other. With less cushioning between the vertebrae, the joints become inflamed.
If you feel stiff and achy when you get out of bed in the morning, it’s often a sign of osteoarthritis rather than sore muscles or a disc problem.
What it feels like: Your back feels stiff and unbending but becomes more flexible as the day goes on. When you bend over or arch your back, it may trigger more severe pain. You may also notice “migrating” sore muscles that recur in different areas.
Why it happens: Over time, degeneration of the joints of the spine causes inflammation around the joints.
3. Neck pain that radiates into the head and shoulders
A pulled muscle in the neck or shoulder typically affects one localized area — you may even be able to touch or pinch the muscle and feel that it’s swollen. Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, may affect the cervical or thoracic spine, causing pain to be felt upward and outward.
What it feels like: Upper back or neck pain that radiates upward into the neck and base of the skull. Some people experience headaches.
Why it happens: Increased stiffness and reduced range of motion may cause you to use different muscles than you typically would, causing tension, muscle strain, and soreness throughout the neck and shoulders.
4. Numbness or tingling in the arms, hands, and fingers
Some people confuse carpal tunnel syndrome with arthritis of the spine because some of the symptoms can be similar. A loss of sensation or stiffness in the wrists, hands, and fingers may make it feel like you’re losing control of your fine motor movements.
What it feels like: Twinges, tingling, or numbness that radiates down from the shoulder through the arm. Depending on where nerve compression is occurring, you may feel pain all the way down your arm or in one specific place, such as your wrists, and it may come and go.
Why it happens: Inflammation and bony overgrowth of the cervical and thoracic spine can impinge upon and irritate spinal nerves, causing numbness, stiffness, and tingling and reducing sensation and motor control in the arms, hands, and fingers.
5. Pain, numbness, or weakness in the legs
A feeling of numbness or tingling that radiates down the buttocks and into the legs is typical of osteoarthritis of the spine as it progresses.
What it feels like:You might notice a lack of sensation in your legs, as if they’re numb or asleep. Your legs might also feel weak or as if they’re cramping or buckling.
Why it happens: Over time, wear and tear can cause the spinal canal — the opening inside each vertebra where the spinal cord passes through — to become narrower.
When this narrowing becomes significant (a condition known as spinal stenosis), it can pinch or compress the spinal cord or the nerve roots that emerge from the spinal cord, leading to pain and numbness that radiates down the hips, buttocks, legs, and feet.
Disc compression or injury, often occurring at the same time or as a result of arthritis, can also cause pain, known as sciatica, that radiates down the legs.
This content was originally published by Caring.com: “Back Pain” and this excerpt reprinted with permission. Click here for the entire article and more information.
Essential Self-Care for Arthritis
Emotions can be key players in the pain game.
Joe Smith, a certified athletic trainer in an orthopedic clinic at the University of California, San Francisco, says he encourages clients with severe pain to name the place in their body where they hold their stress. Then he asks them to talk about what’s bothering them emotionally, such as an upcoming professional event or difficulties at home. “Sometimes that’s enough for people to identify why they’re having this pain,” he says.
Numerous studies document the close ties between chronic pain, especially back pain, and a sufferer’s psychological state. Medical studies also show that psychological interventions such as biofeedback and cognitive behavioral therapies can be far more successful than traditional medical approaches.
Renee Bonjolo, a licensed massage therapist and owner of Body Central in Rhinebeck, New York, sees a clear link between what people are going through psychologically and how their bodies feel. Often these emotions involve guilt and anxiety, she says, especially with clients who are juggling work while caring for a parent, spouse, or child. She’s found that the process of releasing tension and recognizing emotions relieves some of her clients’ physical pain.
Attitude can also help, says podiatrist Wolpa. He’s noticed patients who don’t believe their pain will go away will often have difficulty completing treatment, creating a self-fulfilling prophesy. “Emotions have a lot to do with one’s well-being,” he says.
VIVIAN EISENSTADT, a.k.a. THE BROOKLYN HEALER AGREES: http://www.preventthepain.com/brooklyn_healer.php
She can help when traditional treatments do not work. What works for you? Let us know in the comments.
Nutrition Matters: Best Diet for Osteoarthritis:
Find out how a specific diet plan can help you manage osteoarthritis symptoms, which foods work best, and how to maintain a healthy weight.
If you’re one of the 27 million Americans with osteoarthritis
, you know that the goals of osteoarthritis treatment
are to relieve pain and maintain joint function. Experts say the best way to manage osteoarthritis is by educating yourself about the disease, making helpful lifestyle changes, and using medication if needed. And one of the best lifestyle choices for easing osteoarthritis pain is maintaining a healthy diet.
“A goal of active participation in your osteoarthritis disease treatment should be to reduce pain and inflammation and increase movement and function without dependence on medication,” says Carol Wolin-Riklin, MA, licensed dietitian and nutrition coordinator at the University of Texas Medical School, in Houston, Texas. “This may be achieved through weight loss and natural supplements.”
Osteoarthritis Diet: Controlling Symptoms
Being overweight by just 10 pounds increases the stress on your knee joints by the equivalent of 30 to 60 pounds with each step you take. Studies show that losing weight can keep your osteoarthritis from getting worse and can reduce osteoarthritis pain symptoms.
“Weight reduction helps to alleviate pressure placed on joints during physical activity and may also help reduce circulating cytokines that promote inflammation,” notes Wolin-Riklin. Cytokines are proteins that stimulate swelling and inflammation, and research has shown that fat cells are a key source of cytokines in the body.
A healthy diet combined with exercise is the most effective therapy to achieve weight loss. If you have severe osteoarthritis, you can still find ways to exercise while sitting or in a swimming pool. “Nonimpact exercise is better tolerated. Exercise will promote the loss of fat and help you to maintain lean muscle mass,” says Wolin-Riklin.
Osteoarthritis Diet: The Importance of Fiber
Pain is a common symptom in osteoarthritis. When nonmedical ways to reduce pain, such as heating pads and massage, aren’t doing enough, your doctor may prescribe opiate medications for pain. Opiates relieve pain by blocking pain receptors in your brain, but they also block the muscle cells in your digestive tract and can cause constipation. Though there are also medications to ease constipation, notes Wolin-Riklin, “relying on laxatives to help treat constipation may create a dependence on these medications. Nonmedical ways to promote bowel health are better.” She recommends:
- Adding fiber supplements to your diet.
- Eating a diet rich in foods that contain fiber such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- Drinking plenty of water. This can help prevent constipation. “You should be drinking 48 to 64 ounces of fluid daily unless you have a medical condition that limits fluid intake,” says Wolin-Riklin.
- Getting regular exercise. Constipation is more common when you are not physically active.
Osteoarthritis Diet: Dietary Supplements
Some nutrients have also been shown to benefit people with osteoarthritis. These include:
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D can become trapped in fat cells and levels may be too low in people who are overweight. A blood test can be done to check your vitamin D levels — if they’re low, talk to your doctor about taking over-the-counter vitamin D supplements.
- Vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, and copper. These antioxidants are all helpful in lowering the amount of cytokines in your blood, which help reduce pain symptoms caused by inflammation. “A good multivitamin with trace minerals can be effective,” notes Wolin-Riklin.
- Fish oils. These oils are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help reduce inflammation in the body. “Increasing intake of oily fish [such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines] to three times per week, or taking fish oil supplements, can help boost this anti-inflammatory effect,” Wolin-Riklin says.
If you have osteoarthritis, managing your diet and participating in a good exercise program — in addition to drug therapy when necessary — can make a big difference in reducing osteoarthritis pain If you’re taking medications that can cause constipation, be sure to drink enough fluids and get plenty of fiber through your diet. You might also consider adding a few supplements to your diet that can help reduce inflammation. Taking control of the way you eat is a great way to play an active part in your osteoarthritis treatment.
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When to see a doctor
If you have swelling or stiffness in your joints that lasts for more than a few weeks, make an appointment with your doctor.
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