Arthritis is a very comprehensive term and not a single disease. There are more than 100 types of diseases that fall under the term Arthritis. It is basically a way of referring to the joint pain or inflammation of a joint or joints. It can affect all the joints and the tissues around it. The place where your bones connect – like knees, wrists, hip or spine are the most affected. Some arthritis also affects the connective tissues and organs like skin.
Today more than 50 million people suffer from Arthritis. The most common form is Osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease). Other forms are Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis, and related autoimmune diseases. Septic arthritis is caused by joint infection.
According to Ayurveda, Arthritis is caused when there is an excess of Vata (air) dosha for pain. An increase in vata movements results in low metabolism and at times blocks the normal functioning of the body. One of the reasons for arthritis and other pains such as neck, body, knee and joint is the swelling in the joints created by the toxic mucous (Aam).
TYPES OF ARTHRITIS
Osteoarthritis is the one of the most chronic condition of the joints. It could be simply put as the wear and tear in the joints when you overuse the joints. This is the most common type of arthritis and also called degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis.
In a healthy joint, a firm yet slippery material called cartilage covers the ends of each bone. This helps the joints have a smooth movement providing a cushion between the bones. But when this cartilage breaks down, it causes inflammation, pain and difficulty in movement of the joint. This condition is termed as Osteoarthritis. As it gets worse, the bones may rub against each other and cause spur or bumps on the ends of the bones leading to joint damage and severe pain.
- Acute pain in the joints.
- Depending on the joints affected, you may experience difficulty in bending, climbing stairs, squatting etc.
- Pain when walking.
- The affected joints may be warm and swollen and stiff to touch.
Although people above the age of 65 are mostly affected by Osteoarthritis, it can affect people of all ages. Other causes could be genetic, joint injury, obesity and overuse of joints. The effects of arthritis is not only physical but also emotional as the diminution in mobility may hamper the daily activities, work life and also the enjoyment in life.
In conventional medicine, there is no cure for Osteoarthritis. However, there are options for reducing pain and inflammation.
Ayurveda and Osteoarthritis:
Apart from the local cause of degenerating cartilage, Ayurveda believes that an imbalance of Vata also leads to Osteoarthritis. Consumption of dry and stale food, exposure to excessive dry and cold weather tend to create an imbalance in the Vata dosha. Hence the Ayurvedic approach to treat Osteoarthritis is to pacify the Vata dosha and also address the problem of degenerating cartilage.
Freshly cooked warm food with powdered ginger, black pepper and long pepper is to be consumed by the patient. Including moderate amounts of ghee and oils in the diet is equally important for lubricating the joints. Spicy, deep fried and oily food is to be avoided as they damage the degenerated joints.
Ayurveda offers herbal treatment, which reduce pain and inflammation without the side effects of the conventional medicine. The herbs boswellia, turmeric, ashwagandha, ginger, triphala, guggulu, and shatavari are some of the herbs which alleviate the inflammation in the joints. Local application of medicated oils such as Mahanarayan Taila, Bala Taila, mustard oil etc. is recommended. Moderate exercise is also recommended to maintain mobility in the affected joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. The body’s immune system is supposed to protect its health by confronting the foreign substances like bacteria and viruses. But it seems to get confused and attacks the joints. This leads to inflammation which causes the tissues lining the inner sides of the joints to thicken leading to swelling and pain. This can spread to other parts of the body as well.
If this inflammation goes unchecked, it might lead to permanent damage to the cartilage and the bones. This could lead to loose and unstable joints, pain and decreased mobility in the joints.
Symptoms can start suddenly or may even develop gradually. These include:
- Pain and stiffness along with swelling in hands, knees, wrists and neck. It usually affects multiple joints.
- The effect on the joints is generally symmetrical. If one knee or hand is affected, the other one will also be affected.
- The swelling and stiffness starts in the morning and continues for hours or throughout the day.
- Fatigue and loss of appetite leading to weight loss.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease, that is, it affects the whole body systems like cardiovascular or respiratory systems and can affect other organs like eyes, lungs, heart etc.
About 1.5 million people in the US as affected by Rheumatoid arthritis. This is more common is women than men. In women this disease begins between the ages of 30-60, while it occurs in the later part of life in the men.
Ayurveda and Rheumatoid Arthritis:
As per Ayurveda, Improper dietary habits and an unhealthy lifestyle contribute to Rheumatoid arthritis. An increase in the Vata dosha and Ama in the body results in this disease.
A planned and healthy diet is recommended as unhealthy and irregular diet can trigger abnormal immune response. Garlic with buttermilk is a must in the diet. Turmeric, which has anti-inflammatory properties should be consumed along with milk. Fruits and vegetables like carrots, bitter gourd, drumsticks, papaya etc. help in reducing inflammation and control the hyperactive immune system. Meat and meat fat are to be avoided.
An oil massage is generally not advised for Rheumatoid arthritis. It is advised to practice simple exercises and yoga practices to strengthen and increase the flexibility of the joints.
Psoriatic Arthritis (PA)
Psoriatic arthritis is a type of inflammation that generally occurs in patients who have a skin rash called psoriasis, though it is not mandatory. Some people develop red scaly skin or white patches on the skin. This disease occurs when the immune system attacks joints causing inflammation.
Psoriatic Arthritis can manifest itself in several ways. Spondylitis is the Psoriatic Arthritis in spine. Sometime tendons and ligaments join and stick to the bones causing tender spots. This condition is called enthesitis and is one of the characteristic features of this disease. It causes pain in the sole of the foot, back of the heels and other areas. Psoriatic arthritis can develop at any age, but commonly appears between the age of 30 and 50.
Some people have subtle symptoms while others show sudden and dramatic symptoms of Psoriatic arthritis. Other symptoms include:
- Stiff and swollen joints which are hot.
- Painful and tender joints especially in the morning or after rest.
- Inflammation in other parts of the body including eyes.
- Nails develop discoloration and may have ridges.
Ayurveda and Psoriatic Arthritis:
Ayurveda believes that an imbalance of Vata and Kapha doshas as the primary cause for psoriatic arthritis. An irregular and unhealthy diet is also an important factor. The treatment involves flushing out the toxins from the body with Panchakarma therapy.
The treatment involves consumption of medicated ghee, detoxification using methods like vomiting, enema etc. and external application of herbs on the body. It also involves dripping of medicated buttermilk overhead (Dhara). A strict vegetarian diet with less spices, black gram, salt and oil is recommended.
Mild exercises are suggested to increase the blood flow and maintain mobility of the joints.
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