With age, injury or overuse, cartilage covering articulating surfaces of bones breaks down; underlying bone becomes thickened and distorted, restricting joint movement and sometimes causing episodes of inflammation, pain, and swelling; joints most commonly affected are the load-bearing ones - hips, knees, and spine; 90 per cent of people over 40 have some degree of osteoarthritis in one or more joints.
Condition can be aggravated by being overweight, by an over-acid diet, and by laxative abuse. Conventional treatments include painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, steroid injections into joints, physiotherapy to prevent muscles wasting, and replacement of worn joints, especially hips, with artificial ones; hip replacements have a high success rate, but may themselves have to be replaced within about 20-30 years.
Homeopathy offers constitutional treatment if osteoarthritis is chronic, but for isolated flare-ups the remedies below should be tried; if they do not improve matters, consult your medical doctor or homeopath. Many sufferers get great benefit from osteopathy, chiropractic and physiotherapy, naturopathy and acupuncture.
Specific remedies to be taken 4 times daily for up to 2 weeks
- Pain relieved by heat but aggravated by cold and damp, more insistent when resting but wears off with continued movement, stiffness worse in morning Rhus tox. 6c
- Severe pain, made worse by heat and movement, relieved be cold applications Bryonia 30c
- Heat and warm rooms make joint pains worse, feeling weepy Pulsatilla 6c
- Affected joints feel cold and numb, pain and stiffness increase when weather changes, weakness on climbing stairs Calcarea phos. 6c
- For after effects of steroid injections, or for small joints, especially toes, which give pain and make cracking noises, joint pains seem to progress up the body, pain relieved by cold applications Ledum 6c
- Joint pains a consequence of, or made worse by, injury Arnica 30c
- Severe flare-up in cold dry weather Aconite 30c
Self-help: Two-thirds of osteoarthritis sufferers find the Arthritis Diet beneficial; stick strictly to the diet for 1 month, and see if it helps you. Take some of the weight off your joints by using a stick or by losing weight. Sleep on a firm bed and take several short rest periods during the day. Don't give up on exercise - your muscles need regular exercise to keep them strong. Water aerobics is especially good. Also lose weight if appropriate and try yoga stress-reduction techniques, flotation tanks. Isoheat may be beneficial locally for pain. Try to cut down on drugs such as sleeping pills, tranquillisers and painkillers.
Massage may be beneficial. If you are severely disabled, contact the Disabled Living Foundation for information on special equipment - long-handled dustpans, retrieving sticks, electrical plugs with handles on them, etc. Some sufferers favour green lipped mussel extract, devil's claw, extra Vitamin B5 and kelp. Vitamins A, B, C and E, and also iron, zinc, copper, selenium, and manganese would certainly be beneficial.