Arthritis is another of those words that mean different things to different people. To most, it means your joints have got a bit of wear and tear in them; to a specialist such as a rheumatologist or chiropractor, arthritis refers to a very specific group of much rarer inflammatory diseases of which rheumatoid arthritis and anklylosing spondylitis are probably the best known. Wear and tear – often referred to as ‘osteoarthritis’ – is a completely different disease process, which is why specialists prefer the term ‘degenerative joint disease’, or DJD for short.
So do you have DJD? If you’re over 50, then the answer is almost certainly “yes” – most commonly, it affects the joints that we use the most (thumbs, toes, backs and necks) or the ones that bear the most weight (hips and knees), particularly if you’re carrying extra poundage! So if you’ve got some swelling or stiffness in those joints, can you do anything about it?
For most of us, the good news is that pain in a joint with mild to moderate DJD is not, in my experience, a sentence to a lifetime on painkillers. Much like wear in a car tyre, it’s not just the annual mileage; whether the wheels are properly tracked is equally important. Similarly, the thing that often causes DJD to develop is not overuse but chronic dysfunction … and it is often the dysfunction that is actually causing the pain: get the joint working normally, and the pain goes away.
When chiropractic patient David was 56, he was told that his back pain was caused by spondylitis (DJD in the spine) and that there was nothing to be done. He had a 30-year history of a grumbling back, and an x-ray had shown some wear in the joints and discs at the base of his spine; however, examination revealed that his spine and pelvis had been twisted since picking up a heavy bag of compost in the 1970s and, once the joints had been put back to normal, the pain went away. Twelve years later, David still has the occasional chiropractic MOT, his back pain hasn’t come back … and the arthritis hasn’t progressed.
When arthritis is allowed to become severe, it can become painful it its own right: the joint wears away and large, sharp bony spurs form. At that point, surgery is often the only option. But why let it get to that stage? Most people get their cars serviced every year … when was the last time you had your joints serviced?