… the difference between rheumatoid arthritis and osteo-arthritis. I realised that my mother, who has a multi-joint arthritis problem, didn’t know the difference when she told me that a friend had recommended she avoid certain foods to help her arthritis, and I said “but Mum, you have osteo-arthritis, not rheumatoid arthritis – dietary triggers are not an issue for you” and she basically said “huh?”.
My mother is a cluey lady. She’s been battling joint pain and seeing physios and orthopaedic specialists for years now. Somehow not one of those medical professionals had managed to explain to her the difference between the two major types of arthritis and which one it was that she had. This is knowledge which would actually be useful, because the causes and therapies for different types of arthritis are so different that advice useful for one type can be actively damaging for those with the other type.
Arthritis refers to the deterioration of the articulating surfaces of the joints, and restricted range of joint motion due to stiffness and/or pain is the major physiological sign of the condition. But after that the symptoms vary significantly between the different forms or arthritis.
Osteo-arthritis is the most common form, and involves “wear and tear” – the joint surfaces deteriorate and end up as bone grinding on bone and possibly consequent misalignment of the joint surfaces, leading to more pains and restricted movements. Dietary restriction with the aim of weight loss is sometimes beneficial, but no particular foods need to be avoided in this condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory condition, and involves the body’s immune system attacking the joint surfaces, causing pain, swelling and possible eventual deformity. The involvement of the immune system is where dietary restrictions of particular foods come into play in minimising flareups of the joint inflammation, although this only works for those subjects who do actually have food sensitivities.
If anyone’s not sure what type of arthritis they or a loved one has, one easy way to tell is by which medical specialist is overseeing their treatment – a rheumatologist or an orthopaedic surgeon. It’s not a foolproof sign – a specialist may decide to continue to treat you even after deducing that you’re not totally within their area of specialty, but it’s a fairly good sign. It is also, sadly, possible to have osteoarthritis in some joints and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in others.
ETA: Here’s some useful arthritis information sheets.
So, that was my latest surprise on something that I really thought that at least most people who actually have arthritis could be expected to know. Have any of you been surprised by bumping up against unexpected gaps in what you thought would be common knowledge lately?