Let’s talk about arthritis! Arthritis is one of the most misunderstood things in western medicine and that is because most people think that arthritis is a permanent condition. Which is not true. Now the type of arthritis being discussed in this blog is osteoarthritis, or inflammation in a joint in your body that is not caused by something systemic. For example, something systemic might be rheumatoid arthritis or lymes disease, you might get inflammation in your entire body because of a systemic illness that you had.
A lot of people are under the impression that when you have arthritis in a joint in your body that means that you have that forever. Arthritis is not something that you or anyone else has to live with forever. If you get ahead of it early enough, it is something that is quite easily fixable. It is not something that has to limit the amount of activity that you’re able to have in the next 10 to 20 years of your life and is certainly not something that means you’re going to need a joint replacement years down the road.
What is arthritis?
First, let’s start out by talking about what arthritis is not. It is not something that’s permanent, that’s going to limit you and it is not something that means you’re going to need a joint replacement. In fact, it is simply inflammation in your joint. What arthritis actually is when you break the word down, arthro means joint. itis means inflammation. Most of the time, it is temporary.
We had a client named Greg and his knee started hurting him out of nowhere. He’s an active guy (plays softball, rec league hockey, and volleyball). Greg slowly got knee pain and swelling. He did what most guys in their 30s /40s do..they ignore it, right? They ignore it until it gets bad enough that it starts limiting them from being able to play. Once Greg saw a doctor, he was told to stop playing all sports for six weeks, take anti inflammatory pills, and come back if it’s not better. Greg followed the doctor’s order and six weeks later he started playing again because it felt a lot better. Two weeks later it’s back and this time it’s worse. So what’s happening? Well, the doctor is treating the symptoms.
Arthritis is a Symptom
Arthritis is not not an actual condition or cause. When you’re trying to treat arthritis, you have to understand the difference between those two things. Arthritis is your body’s way of letting you know there’s inflammation (there’s pain in this joint). Why does that happen? It happens typically because there’s a grinding in the joint which over time deteriorates the cartilage and causes inflammation.
What is the root cause?
In order to understand the root cause, you have to trace arthritis back to the source. Greg was having tightness in his calves prior to his knees starting to hurt. He also had tightness in his hips, which was causing increased joint pressure in his knee when he was performing the sports. If it was just tight muscles, what would you do? You’d foam roll, go see your massage therapist, do a few stretches, and you’d have your solution. Greg tried that. That was one of the things Greg tried after he saw his MD, yet the pain came back.
The problem is that these muscles are actually tight for a reason. The reason is typically because other muscles are weak in the surrounding area. These little muscles that are supposed to stabilize your joints aren’t doing their job. So, your brain sends messages to the large muscles to get them to contract and stabilize the joint. Then the joint gets compressed, the joint grinds and you have arthritis.
Why does this happen?
As we grow older, we start going to work and doing our desk jobs. We do things that don’t use the muscles that are supposed to stabilize our joints, we stopped moving from side to side quite as much. As time passes, the big muscles get stiffer (the ones that are really good at moving forwards), and the little ones that move aside the side and rotate us those start to get weak.
Can injury cause Arthritis?
What happens during injury is your muscles start to tighten up around the injury in order to protect that area. Now the problem is when that becomes permanent over time. The brain starts to learn that new pattern, it’s helping us in the moment, but over time the brain actually learns this habit of using the wrong muscles. This becomes its natural pattern and the little muscles aren’t getting used the way that they should. This makes them slowly get weaker over time, until that looseness causes the big muscles to get even stiffer. This is what compresses the joint, causing arthritis.
How do you know if the root cause has been addressed?
The way to tell is if your pain comes back. It only takes a couple weeks to come back or even if it takes a month to come back. If the pain continues to come back it is because you have not addressed the root cause.
If you’re looking for long term results for arthritis (for joint inflammation), you need to address the root cause. The root cause (especially with arthritis) is rooted in your brain. Your muscles are not communicating effectively in order to stabilize your joints. Which then causes a scale of events to happen where your joint gets more stiff and tight, causing compression and grinding. This causes the cartilage tissues to wear down, causing arthritis. It is not forever! Knee replacements and hip replacements should not be something that you quietly accept as something that you’re going to have to do later, when there is something that you can do about it now.
What can you do?
If you do have arthritis and you’re tired of it coming back, find a Physical Therapist who specializes in exercise and movement. To get to the root cause, you have to peel back the layers. You have to ask, why is this pain coming back three or four or five times? Then be committed to the things that are going to cause long term gain and feel confident asking your MD or PT questions that help you to feel that they are addressing the root cause. This does take you being a little bit more direct with your healthcare providers and actually asking the tough questions, not assuming that every doctor understands movement and how to restore balance to the body.
If you’re the type of person who wants to be that active adult, who wants to be that active grandparent that all the other grandparents look at and say “Gee, I wish I had taken a little bit better care of myself.” You need to find yourself a Physical Therapist that understands this and can explain to you the exact treatment plan and approach to get you over this and to get you that active healthy lifestyle. They need to understand that your main objective is to avoid surgery now AND down the road.