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Arthritis in the elderly
Arthritis means inflamed joints, and there are many types of arthritis. The commonest type is osteoarthritis, which is a problem of wear and tear due to excessive use over the years and to old injuries in those joints. Most cases of arthritis are mild, and people cope with it. Arthritis does not necessarily get worse as you get older; sometimes it can get less painful, (arthritis in the lumbar spine is a good example of this).
What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?
Which joints are affected?
Osteoarthritis mostly affects the weight-bearing joints such as the spine, knees and hips. The base of the thumb, the ends of the fingers and the big toes are also common sites.
What is the treatment?
There is no cure, but there are many ways to make life more comfortable and keep you mobile and independent.
Keep your weight down to avoid unnecessary wear on the joints. No particular diet has been proved to cause, or improve, osteoarthritis.
Keep a good balance of adequate rest with sensible exercise (such as walking, cycling and swimming), but stop any exercise or activity that increases the pain.
It is usual to feel more comfortable when the weather is warm. A hot-water bottle, warm bath or electric blanket can soothe the pain and stiffness. Avoid getting too cold.
This can be most helpful in improving muscle tone, reducing stiffness and keeping you mobile.
Shoe inserts, good footwear and a walking stick can help painful knees, hips and feet.
Aspirin and paracetamol are effective pain-killers. Your doctor may prescribe special anti-arthritic medications, which should be taken with food. Inform your doctor if you have had a peptic ulcer or get indigestion.
It is possible to increase your independence at home. There is a wide range of inexpensive equipment and tools that can help with cooking, cleaning and other household chores. These can be discussed with your physiotherapist or occupational therapist.
Modern surgery can give excellent results with relief of severe pan for most joints.
The new techniques and artificial joints are improving all the time, and so there is no
need to suffer with severe pain.
Osteoarthritis of the hip
Replacement of your worn-out joint with an artificial hip made of a combination of
metal or plastic is a very common operation. More than 90 per cent of these are most
Osteoarthritis of the knee
Modern knee replacements are also giving excellent results, and if you have crippling
knee pain this operation can give great relief.
Copyright 1995: John Murtagh, Professor of