Diseases of Bones and Muscles and their Relief

Our bones, muscles, connective tissue and joints hold us together, enable us to move and give form to our bodies. This system is used (and often misused) a lot and as a consequence it suffers from wear and tear.

The health of bones and muscles depends not only on their use but also on the body's metabolism, diet and lifestyle. The health of the bones and joints depends on the health of the whole body. If the body's biochemical and metabolic processes are not working properly, the body will be under a great deal of strain as it attempts to remove waste products and toxins.

If this situation continues for some years (which it often does and frequently it goes unnoticed) toxins are able to build up in the connective tissue of the joints. This is the beginning stage for the development of rheumatism and arthritis. This is particularly the case for people who have a genetic predisposition for the development of these conditions.

Herbal medicine has a great deal to offer in the treatment of these and other degenerative conditions.

Since this is a significant area of disease and herbal medicine has proven so effective, herbal treatment details have been placed in Part 2. Be sure to read through the rest of this page for important treatment foundation information

What are some of the diseases of bones and joints?

There are more than 100 rheumatic diseases and the term arthritis is often used to describe all rheumatic diseases. Arthritis, however, actually means joint inflammation (that is swelling, redness, heat and pain which may be caused by tissue injury or diseases of the joint). Arthritis comprises only a small portion of the rheumatic conditions. Some rheumatic conditions affect the body's connective tissue and others, which occur when the body's immune system is out of balance, cause the body to harm its own healthy tissue.

The most common rheumatic diseases include:

  • Ankylosing spondylitis. This condition primarily affects the spine, causes excess friction on certain joints and can lead to osteoarthritis in the hips, shoulders and knees. The tendons and ligaments become inflamed. This results in pain and stiffness especially in the lower back. The condition tends to affect people in late adolescence and early adulthood.
  • Bursitis. The bursae are fluid filled sacs that cushion the joints and reduce friction during movement. In bursitis these joints become inflamed. It may be caused by arthritis, injury or infection. It is painful and may limit the movement of nearby joints.
  • Fibromyalgia. This condition cause pain and stiffness in the muscle and connective tissue that support and move the bones. The pain and localised tenderness is particularly associated with the spine, shoulders and hips.
  • Gout. This results from the deposit of uric acid crystals in the connective tissue and/or joint spaces of the body. Uric acid is a normal breakdown product of food metabolism. Uric acid is normally removed through the kidneys and passed out of the body in urine. When the blood concentration of uric acid rises above normal crystals begin to form in the tendons, ligaments and cartilage of joints. The crystals irritate the tissue causing inflammation.
  • Osteoarthritis. This is also known as degenerative joint disease and is the most common form of arthritis. It mainly affects the cartilage (the tissue that cushions the ends of the bones). Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage begins to wear and decay. The condition causes pain, stiffness, reduced movement and an overall loss of function in the affected joints.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. This is an inflammatory disease of the joint lining. It causes pain, stiffness, swelling, deformity and loss of function. The condition frequently affects the joints of the hands and feet. It frequently occurs on both sides of the body and this helps to distinguish it from other forms of arthritis.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus. This condition is also known as Lupus or SLE and is an autoimmune condition (that is, the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's healthy tissue). It results in inflammation and damage to the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels and the brain.
  • Tendonitis. The tendons are the tough tissue that connects the muscles to the bone. In tendonitis the tendons become inflamed. It is frequently caused by overuse or other rheumatic conditions. The tendons are painful and movement is often restricted.
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What you can do about these conditions

The long term goal in the treatment of rheumatic diseases is to have the person cope with the cycle of pain, depression and stress that can be difficult to break out of. If you have a rheumatic condition it is easier to break out of the cycle if you become an active participant in your health care. The following provides some guidelines as to what you are able to do to help improve your situation.

Diet

A well balanced diet that provides all the essential vitamins and minerals can provide the body with the nutrients needed to assist in the repair of damaged tissue. Take plenty of antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin A (as beta carotene). These antioxidants will help to prevent the damage caused by free radicals and thus help prevent the development of the disease. These may be taken as part of a good multivitamin and mineral supplement.

Take vitamin B complex so that you get plenty of vitamin B3, B5 and B6, in particular.

Calcium panthothenate at 2g every day may prove useful for some suffers.

Zinc (at 30 mg per day) and selenium (about 250 mcg per day) will be required.

Ensure that you get plenty of magnesium and potassium, a deficiency of which will make the muscles weak and spasm. Magnesium is also required to form the synovial fluid that surrounds the joint.

You may have a vitamin D deficiency, perhaps because of inadequate exposure to the sunlight, and this should be rectified by allowing 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight onto arms, legs or back daily. You should take care not to burn by having more exposure to sunlight than suggested. However, do not take too much vitamin D. Taking high doses of vitamin D (10,000 to 50,000 IUs daily) may be harmful and a dose of 400IUs per day is adequate for housebound elderly people.

Foods to avoid

One cause of rheumatism and arthritis may be the accumulation of toxins or waste products in the affected tissues. This may occur when people eat foods that are wrong for their bodies (because of food sensitivities and allergies). You should look at avoiding the following foods if you have a rheumatic disease:

  • Gluten, a component of wheat, rye, oats and barley, is a leading food in allergies.
  • Dairy products.
  • Red meat and eggs.
  • Overly acid foods, such as vinegar and pickles.
  • Foods that are rich in oxalic acid, such as rhubarb, gooseberries and black and red currents.
  • Coffee, tea, alcohol or anything that includes black grapes, refined sugar and salt.
  • Avoid members of the 'nightshade' family of foods, since they can cause joint problems. These include:
    • paprika,
    • potatoes,
    • tomatoes,
    • eggplant, and
    • peppers.

Beneficial foods

Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Citrus fruit, despite their acid content, have an alkaline action on the metabolism. Vegetables, particularly the green and root vegetables, should be eaten in abundance. This should include: cabbage, celery and turnip.

While you avoid red meats and eggs, eating fish, particularly oily fish, is acceptable. Drink plenty of pure water which will flush the system and act as a detoxifier. Also, Evening primrose oil has an anti-inflammatory effect and may be useful.

Exercise

It is necessary to get as much exercise as feasible. Exercise reduces joint stiffness and increases flexibility, strength and endurance. It also helps those who are overweight to lose the excess weight and it contributes to a sense of wellbeing.

The type of exercises needed varies depending on the joints that are involved, the amount of inflammation, the stability of the joints and whether there has been a joint replacement.

Before embarking on a new exercise program you may need to consult your health professional for specific guidelines. In addition you can follow these general guidelines:

  • Begin with stretching exercises.
  • Warm up with range-of motion exercises.
  • When doing strengthening exercises, start slowly with small weights.
  • Progress slowly and do not increase the number of repetitions or length of time that you are exercising until you have worked through the previous level for several weeks without pain. Check with you health professional if you are unsure.
  • Use cold packs after exercising.
  • When you are able add aerobic exercise to your program.
  • Ease back on the exercise if your joints become painful, red and inflamed.
  • Choose the exercise program that you enjoy the most - you are more likely to stick with the plan if you enjoy what you are doing.

There are three types of exercise that are most helpful for people with arthritis:

  • Range-of-motion exercises such as stretching. These help to maintain normal joint movement, relieve stiffness and improve flexibility.
  • Strengthening exercises such as weightlifting. These maintain or increase muscle strength. Strong muscles are able to support an arthritic joint.
  • Aerobic or endurance exercises such as walking and swimming. These improve the cardiovascular fitness and help control weight.

Weight reduction

Extra weight puts unnecessary strain on some joints (particularly the knees, hips and back) and can aggravate arthritis. Weight loss is therefore one of the most effective ways to both relieve and to prevent joint pain.

Eat at least five servings of fresh fruit and vegetables per day. Work other foods around them, concentrating on quality and not quantity and avoid eating more than about 30g of fat each day. Follow the dietary recommendations outlined above.

Eat a high fiber diet. Fiber also transports the fats through the digestive system, lowering the amount absorbed and stored in the body.

A tip worth remembering is that brewer’s yeast may reduce the cravings for sweet foods.

Eat little and often. This gives your body a chance to digest and process the energy from your food more efficiently. It is best to eat the largest meal in the middle of the day which gives the body time to digest and use the food before sleeping and avoid eating just before going to bed.

Listen to your body (rather than advertising or television!) and eat when you are genuinely hungry. Base the foods that you eat on whole fresh unrefined foods. Eat for the purpose of being healthy and active and in order to get nutrients and energy from the food.

Enjoy your food. Eat a healthy diet with small quantities of treats when you want them. You will find that if you eat well your cravings for sweet and fatty foods will diminish and are more easily satisfied. You may need to ‘push through’ to this point and may initially feel the cravings. Try not to give into the cravings too often and allow your body time to adjust to eating in a healthy way.

Application of heat and cold

Applications of heat and cold have been shown to reduce the pain and inflammation in arthritis. Deciding when to use heat or cold depends on the condition being treated.

Heat

This increases the blood flow and improves flexibility and pain tolerance in sore joints. Heat can be applied in may ways, such as melted wax, microwave and ultrasound heat treatments. However, you can apply some heat treatments at home. Moist heat as in a bath or shower and dry heat from a heating pad can be effective. Apply any of these treatments to the painful area for about 15 minutes. Heating for longer periods does improve the condition.

  • Heat is not recommended for people with acutely inflamed joints. This includes people with gout - heat increases the circulation which will aggravate the inflammation.
  • Heat is often used around shoulders to relax tight tendons before stretching exercises.

Cold

This numbs the nerves around the joints, reducing the pain. This therapy also relieves inflammation and muscle spasms. Cold therapy can be applied with ice packs, cold water soaking and sprays and ointments that cool the skin and joints.

At home you can wrap an ice pack (or a bag of frozen peas) in a towel and place it on the sore joint for about 15 minutes.

  • Cold is recommended for acutely inflamed joints as it will help reduce both the pain and the swelling.
  • Cold is not recommended for people with Raynaud's disease (a circulatory illness) as it causes the local blood vessels to narrow and this dramatically aggravates the condition.

Hydrotherapy, mobilisation therapy and relaxation therapy

Many physical and mental therapies can help people deal with joint pain and slow the progression of an illness. Three of the most popular therapies are hydrotherapy, mobilization therapy and relaxation therapy.

Hydrotherapy

This involves exercising or relaxing in warm water. It helps to relax tense muscles and relieve pain. Exercising in a pool that is large enough to enable full movement is easier than exercising on land because the water provides buoyancy that takes some of the pressure off painful joints.

Mobilization therapy

This involves traction (steady, gentle pulling), massage and manipulation (using the hands to restore normal movement of stiff joints). These methods help to relieve pain, increase joint motion and improve muscle and tendon flexibility.

Relaxation therapy

This is used to help people relax muscle tension which in turn reduces the pain around affected joints. In progressive relaxation you learn to tighten one muscle group, slowly release the tension and then repeat the process with another group.

Assistive devices

Braces and splints are commonly used to assist those with arthritis. Both splints and braces support weakened joints, allowing them to rest. Some devices prevent the joint from moving, while others allow for some movement. Others allow for easing of pain by cushioning and taking pressure off a joint - for example canes will reduce the weight placed on an arthritic leg joint and shoe insert help ease foot or knee pain associated with walking by correcting improper angles.

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Glucosamine sulphate

Glucosamine sulphate can help ease joint problems through a process called chondroprotection. This is a means of increasing the reconstruction and self healing of the joint cartilage.

Glucosamine is an amino acid and amino acids are the structural basis of connective tissue and lubricating fluid in joints. Glucosamines are the 'glue' that holds us all together and as such are the basic component of cartilage, ligaments, tendons and bones.

Connective tissue is continually being broken down and then replaced or rebuilt. This creates a continual demand for glucosamine. Normally the body can produce enough glucosamine (from glucose and the amino acid glutamine), but under some conditions (for example in severe physical and emotional stress, and the aging process) production may be reduced. In many rheumatic diseases a lack of glycoproteins or other substances based on amino sugars has been found. Osteoarthritis is an example of a disease in which this occurs.

There is evidence that taking glucosamine sulphate supplements may stimulate synthesis of the missing glycoproteins. In one study the effects of taking glucosamine sulphate were compared to ibuprofen and indomethacin (prescription anti-inflammatory drugs). In people with osteoarthritis the drugs relieved the symptoms faster than glucosamine sulphate, but they also had negative long term effects on the cartilage and the course of the disease. The glucosamine sulphate took effect after two weeks of therapy. After that time the people taking glucosamine sulphate experienced relief. Those who took it for 8 weeks had long term relief- even after they stopped taking the glucosamine sulphate.

If you decide to try taking glucosamine sulphate supplements you need to remember not to expect results instantly. It takes 2 - 8 weeks to fully stimulate the body's synthesis of the missing molecules. The suggested dosage for osteoarthritis is 500mg three times per day.

References

Airola, P. 1984, How to get well. Health plus publishers.

Bland, J. C1996, Contemporary Nutrition. J & B Associates.

Duke, J. A. 2000, Anti-aging Prescriptions. Rodale.

Hoffman, D. 2000, The New Holistic Herbal. Element Pub.

Hoffman, D. 2001, Healthy Bones and Joints. Newleaf.

Holden, S., Hudson, K., Tilman, J. & D. Wolf, 2003, The Ultimate Guide to Health from Nature. Asrolog Publication.

Jacka, J. 1997, A-Z of Natural Therapies. Lothian.

Sullivan, K. 2002, Vitamins and Minerals: A Practical Approach to a Health Diet and Safe Supplementation. Harper Collins.

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