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Focus on Arthritis

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

The word arthritis is used to describe pain, swelling and stiffness in a joint or joints. Around 10 million people in the UK are thought to have arthritis, of which there are many different types. The 3 most common types of arthritis that I help with are Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Psoriatic Arthritis.

For clients with these conditions, regular soft tissue therapy is part of their healthcare, supporting them in managing their symptoms. It can be helpful in reducing pain, increasing mobility in the joints, reducing muscle tightness, lowering anxiety, boosting sleep & improving mood. Soft tissue therapists can also prescribe exercises, that will strengthen the muscles that support the joints, helping to reduce pain and facilitating the ability to exercise and move.

Osteoarthritis (OA), is known as the 'wear & tear arthritis' & the most common type of arthritis in the UK. It is a long-term degenerative condition of the joints, that affects the smooth cartilage lining of the joint. It can make movement more difficult, leading to pain, swelling and stiffness & the tendons and ligaments in and around the joint have to work harder. Severe loss of cartilage can lead to the shape of the joint becoming altered, but this is not always the case and for many people, the condition does not necessarily get any worse over time.

Osteoarthritis is thought to run in families and is more common in women, usually affecting people from the age of 45 onwards. The parts of the body most affected are the knees, hands, hips and spine. Sometimes just one joint is affected, but often multiple joints are affected just at different speeds. It is not uncommon for example, to first notice some hip stiffness on one side, only to be followed with similar symptoms on the other side some months or years later.

There is no cure for OA but it can be managed. The main treatments include movement & fitness, (swimming & cycling are great), weight management, ice/heat therapy, strengthening exercises and physical therapies including soft tissue therapy, which can also be helpful in reducing painful symptoms, lowering stress & making everyday activities easier.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is less common than osteoarthritis. It affects around 1% of the population, most commonly those between the ages of 30 and 50, but it can affect adults of any age and is 3x more common in women than men.

RA is an autoimmune condition, the cause of which is not fully understood. It triggers the body’s immune system to target healthy tissues, causing chronic inflammation of the joints and connective tissue throughout the body, leading to pain and swelling.

The onset of RA is usually quite slow. Often it starts in the small joints of the hands, neck, spine and feet and can be preceded by weeks or even months of feeling unwell – reduced energy, lack of appetite, low-grade fever and muscle pain.

In addition to medication for RA, regular soft tissue therapy can help support people with this condition to manage their symptoms. Whilst treatment is not recommended during a ‘flare up’, some studies have indicated that gentle massage can help as a form of pain management, to alleviate symptoms of chronic pain, stiffness and reduced mobility (1).

Psoriatic arthritis can cause painful swelling and stiffness within and around joints, as well as a red scaly skin rash called psoriasis. Psoriatic arthritis usually affects around 3 in 10 people who already have psoriasis, however some people develop the arthritis before the psoriasis and it is possible to have the arthritis, but no psoriasis at all.

Psoriatic arthritis and psoriasis are both autoimmune conditions, caused by the immune system attacking healthy soft tissue and joints. The arthritis commonly affects the joints of the hand and wrist, knees, ankles, toes & elbows. It is also common to have severe fatigue, poor sleep and pain in the heels of the feet that makes it difficult to stand or walk.

This condition can affect people of any age but tends to affect adults and is often an inherited risk, which can be triggered by infection, accident, injury or smoking. Sometimes there is no explanation as to what causes the condition.

In addition to medical treatments for PA, soft tissue therapy can be beneficial in helping to manage symptoms by increasing mobility in the joints, reducing muscle tightness and having a positive impact on quality of sleep and mental wellbeing.

Get in touch if I can help you or someone you know, manage symptoms associated with arthritis

(1) Tiffany Field, Miguel Diego, Jeannette Delgado, Daniel Garcia, C G Funk, 2012 ‘Rheumatoid arthritis in upper limbs benefits from moderate pressure massage therapy’


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