As we age, some of us will encounter the stiffness and pain of arthritis in our joints or spines, a condition often worsened by sitting for hours while traveling. However, there are measures we can take to minimize its control over our lives.
Joints, the points of contact between bones, are complex structures. Crucial to mobility and independence, they allow movement because they connect bones to ligaments and tendons. The space surrounding each joint is lined with synovial membrane that produces synovial fluid to lubricate the joint.
Osteoarthritis is caused by wear-and-tear and the deterioration of cartilage, the hard, shiny material that protects and cushions the ends of our bones. The result can be bone grinding on bone, even bits of cartilage floating in the joint capsule. Osteoarthritis most often affects weight-bearing joints like the knees and hips, causing pain, stiffness and swelling. Injury or infection can also trigger it.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects fingers, toes, wrists and feet. An auto-immune condition, it occurs when white blood cells that normally protect against disease attack the body’s own tissue. The result is inflammation of the joint’s connective tissue and synovial membrane and destruction of cartilage, manifested in redness, swelling and pain.
Diet doesn’t have much effect on arthritis, though healthy eating and maintaining proper weight are important. The severity of both types of arthritis and their impact on daily life depend on the joints involved, type of arthritis and level of inflammation. Besides medication, there are things you can do to reduce the impact of arthritis.
Joint movement transports waste products to and from the cartilage, so gentle exercise helps. Swimming and water aerobics (which increase buoyancy and relieve stress on weight-bearing muscles), tai chi and yoga are beneficial. Always discuss your exercise plans with your doctor. Heat, whether a hot shower or bath or the application of a heating pad or hot water bottle, is effective in relieving symptoms. Cold packs can also be helpful.
Assistive devices, such as canes, walkers, or higher seat levels can make a difference, as can special "reachers" or grippers that allow you to pick up hard-to-reach items. Learning to pace yourself, using rest and relaxation techniques and avoiding exhaustion can help you travel well despite a diagnosis of arthritis.