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Arthritis

What Is Arthritis?

There are over 100 forms of arthritis and other rheumatic diseases. These diseases may cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in joints and other supporting structures of the body such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. Some forms can also affect other parts of the body, including various internal organs.

Many people use the word "arthritis" to refer to all rheumatic diseases. However, the word literally means joint inflammation; that is, swelling, redness, heat, and pain caused by tissue injury or disease in the joint. The many different kinds of arthritis comprise just a portion of the rheumatic diseases. Some rheumatic diseases are described as connective tissue diseases because they affect the body's connective tissue--the supporting framework of the body and its internal organs. Others are known as autoimmune diseases because they are caused by a problem in which the immune system harms the body's own healthy tissues. Examples of some rheumatic diseases are:

Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Ankylosing spondylitis, Gout

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, especially among older people. Sometimes it is called degenerative joint disease or osteoarthrosis.

Osteoarthritis is a joint disease that mostly affects the cartilage. Cartilage is the slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint. Healthy cartilage allows bones to glide over one another. It also absorbs energy from the shock of physical movement. In osteoarthritis, the surface layer of cartilage breaks down and wears away. This allows bones under the cartilage to rub together, causing pain, swelling, and loss of motion of the joint. Over time, the joint may lose its normal shape. Also, bone spurs--small growths called osteophytes--may grow on the edges of the joint. Bits of bone or cartilage can break off and float inside the joint space. This causes more pain and damage.

People with osteoarthritis usually have joint pain and limited movement. Unlike some other forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis affects only joints and not internal organs. For example, rheumatoid arthritis--the second most common form of arthritis--affects other parts of the body besides the joints. It begins at a younger age than osteoarthritis, causes swelling and redness in joints, and may make people feel sick, tired, and (uncommonly) feverish.

How Do You Know if You Have Osteoarthritis?

Usually, osteoarthritis comes on slowly. Early in the disease, joints may ache after physical work or exercise. Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint. Most often it occurs at the hands, knees, hips, or spine.

Hands: Osteoarthritis of the fingers is one type of osteoarthritis that seems to have some hereditary characteristics; that is, it runs in families. More women than men have it, and they develop it especially after menopause. In osteoarthritis, small, bony knobs appear on the end joints of the fingers. They are called Heberden's nodes. Similar knobs, called Bouchard's  nodes, can appear on the middle joints of the fingers. Fingers can become enlarged and gnarled, and they may ache or be stiff and numb. The base of the thumb joint also is commonly affected by osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis of the hands can be helped by medications, splints, or heat treatment.

Knees: The knees are the body's primary weight-bearing joints. For this reason, they are among the joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis. They may be stiff, swollen, and painful, making it hard to walk, climb, and get in and out of chairs and bathtubs. If not treated, osteoarthritis in the knees can lead to disability. Medications, weight loss, exercise, and walking aids can reduce pain and disability. In severe cases, knee replacement surgery may be helpful.

Hips: Osteoarthritis in the hip can cause pain, stiffness, and severe disability. People may feel the pain in their hips, or in their groin, inner thigh, buttocks, or knees. Walking aids, such as canes or walkers, can reduce stress on the hip. Osteoarthritis in the hip may limit moving and bending. This can make daily activities such as dressing and foot care a challenge. Walking aids, medication, and exercise can help relieve pain and improve motion. The doctor may recommend hip replacement if the pain is severe and not relieved by other methods.

Spine: Stiffness and pain in the neck or in the lower back can result from osteoarthritis of the spine. Weakness or numbness of the arms or legs also can result. Some people feel better when they sleep on a firm mattress or sit using back support pillows. Others find it helps to use heat treatments or to follow an exercise program that strengthens the back and abdominal muscles. In severe cases, the doctor may suggest surgery to reduce pain and help restore function.

Features of Osteoarthritis

  • Steady or intermittent pain in a joint

  • Stiffness in a joint after getting out of bed or sitting for a long time

  • Swelling or tenderness in one or more joints

  • A crunching feeling or the sound of bone rubbing on bone

  • Hot, red, or tender? Probably not osteoarthritis. Check with your doctor about other causes, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Pain? Not always. In fact, only a third of people whose x rays show evidence of osteoarthritis report pain or other symptoms.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease that causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in the joints. It has several special features that make it different from other kinds of arthritis. For example, rheumatoid arthritis generally occurs in a symmetrical pattern, meaning that if one knee or hand is involved, the other one also is. The disease often affects the wrist joints and the finger joints closest to the hand. It can also affect other parts of the body besides the joints. In addition, people with rheumatoid arthritis may have fatigue, occasional fevers, and a general sense of not feeling well.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects people differently. For some people, it lasts only a few months or a year or two and goes away without causing any noticeable damage. Other people have mild or moderate forms of the disease, with periods of worsening symptoms, called flares, and periods in which they feel better, called remissions. Still others have a severe form of the disease that is active most of the time, lasts for many years or a lifetime, and leads to serious joint damage and disability.

Features of Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Tender, warm, swollen joints

  • Symmetrical pattern of affected joints

  • Joint inflammation often affecting the wrist and finger joints closest to the hand

  • Joint inflammation sometimes affecting other joints, including the neck, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, ankles, and feet

  • Fatigue, occasional fevers, a general sense of not feeling well

  • Pain and stiffness lasting for more than 30 minutes in the morning or after a long rest

  • Symptoms that last for many years

  • Variability of symptoms among people with the disease

What Causes Arthritis Pain?

The pain of arthritis may come from different sources. These may include inflammation of the synovial membrane (tissue that lines the joints), the tendons, or the ligaments; muscle strain; and fatigue. A combination of these factors contributes to the intensity of the pain.

The pain of arthritis varies greatly from person to person, for reasons that doctors do not yet understand completely. Factors that contribute to the pain include swelling within the joint, the amount of heat or redness present, or damage that has occurred within the joint. In addition, activities affect pain differently so that some patients note pain in their joints after first getting out of bed in the morning, whereas others develop pain after prolonged use of the joint. Each individual has a different threshold and tolerance for pain, often affected by both physical and emotional factors. These can include depression, anxiety, and even hypersensitivity at the affected sites due to inflammation and tissue injury. This increased sensitivity appears to affect the amount of pain perceived by the individual.

What Are Some Pain Relief Methods for People With Arthritis?

There are known methods to help stop pain for short periods of time. This temporary relief can make it easier for people who have arthritis to exercise. The doctor or physical therapist can suggest a method that is best for each patient. The following methods have worked for many people:

Magnet therapy: The application of high strength rare earth magnets at the point of pain. The magnets should be applied continuously over a period of at least 3 weeks. Magnets can be applied in the form of straps, wraps,  insoles, jewellery, pillows, mattress covers.

Moist heat supplied by warm towels, hot packs, a bath, or a shower can be used at home for 15 to 20 minutes three times a day to relieve symptoms. A health professional can use short waves, microwaves, and ultrasound to deliver deep heat to non inflamed joint areas. Deep heat is not recommended for patients with acutely inflamed joints. Deep heat is often used around the shoulder to relax tight tendons prior to stretching exercises.

Cold supplied by a bag of ice or frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel helps to stop pain and reduce swelling when used for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. It is often used for acutely inflamed joints. People who have Raynaud's phenomenon should not use this method.

Hydrotherapy (water therapy) can decrease pain and stiffness. Exercising in a large pool may be easier because water takes some weight off painful joints. Community centers, YMCAs, and YWCAs have water exercise classes developed for people with arthritis. Some patients also find relief from the heat and movement provided by a whirlpool.

Mobilization therapies include traction (gentle, steady pulling), massage, and manipulation (using the hands to restore normal movement to stiff joints). When done by a trained professional, these methods can help control pain and increase joint motion and muscle and tendon flexibility.

TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) and biofeedback are two additional methods that may provide some pain relief, but many patients find that they cost too much money and take too much time. In TENS, an electrical shock is transmitted through electrodes placed on the skin's surface. TENS machines cost between $80 and $800. The inexpensive units are fine. Patients can wear them during the day and turn them off and on as needed for pain control.

Relaxation therapy also helps reduce pain. Patients can learn to release the tension in their muscles to relieve pain. Physical therapists may be able to teach relaxation techniques. The Arthritis Foundation has a self-help course that includes relaxation therapy. Health spas and vacation resorts sometimes have special relaxation courses.

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese method of pain relief. A medically qualified acupuncturist places needles in certain sites. Researchers believe that the needles stimulate deep sensory nerves that tell the brain to release natural painkillers (endorphins). Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, but pressure is applied to the acupuncture sites instead of using needles.

Don't Waste Another Minute Of Your Life Suffering With Pain. You Don't Have To. Act Now! Discover how these Back, Hip, Sciatica, Neck & Shoulder, Wrist & Hand, Knees & Thigh, Feet & Lower Leg, Insomnia and Depression and All Over Body Pain Treatments Can Get Rid Of All Your Pain And Improve Your Well Being...

Don't Waste Another Minute Of Your Life Suffering With Pain. You Don't Have To. Act Now! Discover how these Back, Hip, Sciatica, Neck & Shoulder, Elbow, Wrist & Hand, Knees & Thigh, Feet & Lower Leg, Insomnia and Depression and All Over Body Pain Treatments Can Get Rid Of All Your Pain And Improve Your Well Being...

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