Help for Aching Joints
On World Arthritis Awareness Day, Oct. 12, a Teaneck rheumatologist lends his insight about a condition that can affect your mobility and range of activities—and make you wince.
Move over, Columbus. You need to share your holiday—Oct. 12—with World Arthritis Awareness Day, an occasion aimed at greater understanding of the leading cause of work disability in the United States.
Arthritis—actually a generic name for more than 100 different conditions—is a swelling or tenderness in the joints. It affects roughly 54 million Americans, about 23 percent of the population. Medications can help, and in some cases physical therapy and surgery can alleviate symptoms too, but there is no known cure.
To learn more, BERGEN sought out Alexandru Kimel, M.D., a rheumatologist who sees patients at Rheumatology Associates of North Jersey (RANJ) in Teaneck and Union City, in hopes that he’d speak our language. (He actually speaks five—besides English, there are Italian, Spanish, Romanian and Yiddish.) He’s an instructor of clinical rheumatology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. Dr. Kimel shares facts about aching joints and what you can do about them.
BERGEN: What are the biggest misconceptions about arthritis?
Alexandru Kimel, M.D.: That it only occurs in older persons. Not true! It is seen in all age groups, from young children to the middle-aged and the elderly as well. What people don’t realize is that there are more than 100 types of arthritis, distinguished by their mechanisms of causing inflammation of the joints. There are mechanical causes, autoimmune disorders, crystal-induced, bacterial and viral and even medication-induced arthritis.
BERGEN: Is there a part of the body that’s most susceptible?
AK: It varies. Arthritis can affect fingers and toes with autoimmune disease. Low back, knees and hips are often where you develop arthritis from mechanical causes—even your TMJ [temporomandibular joint in the jaw] and sternum can be affected. The most common sites of all arthritis are the knees, hips, back and hands. These are usually the joints that are used and abused the most.
BERGEN: Is there a way to slow the progression of the disease?
AK: Yes, definitely. Depending on which type of arthritis it is, you can treat it accordingly. If it is osteoarthritis (mechanical), you can decrease the load on the joints by losing weight and strengthening the muscles around the joint. If it is rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis (autoimmune), you can try different medications that are directed specifically to the immune system to decrease the inflammation. If it is gouty arthritis, you can try change in diet and lifestyle modifications, and then possibly medications. And if it is infectious arthritis, you can treat with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.
BERGEN: If you have one form of arthritis, can you get another as well?
AK: Yes. It’s common to have an autoimmune arthritis and osteoarthritis as well and a mix of different arthritis variants at the same time. You have to be a good detective to decipher the different types of arthritis sometimes.
BERGEN: Is there any way to minimize one’s risk of developing arthritis?
AK: Yes, there is. Maintain good general health, a healthy weight and make sure you get a good amount of exercise to strengthen your joints and back muscles. The less weight you carry, the less pressure on your joints. Avoid smoking and drinking excessively. And not using the proper support for your joints, back or wrist can lead to worsening of the arthritis.
BERGEN: Short of medication, what lifestyle changes can help?
AK: I try to convince my patients to make a change in health habits and increase their physical activity—stretching and yoga, Pilates, Barre method and even Tai-Chi help loosen joints and increase dexterity. These are ways to protect the joints. I rely on medications as a last course of treatment, but again, it all depends on what type and severity of arthritis patients are presenting with. It’s always a case-by-case discussion, and everybody is different. What may work for your best friend may not for you. So, we try multiple ways to get relief for those suffering with arthritis.