What is it? Arthritis is characterized by painful, inflamed joints. While there are more than 100 different types of arthritis, the most common form is osteoarthritis, which is due to either damage caused by trauma or general wear and tear. Other forms, such as rheumatoid arthritis, are a result of an overactive immune system. For many, arthritis is a painful condition that severely limits simple, everyday activities, such as putting on socks, climbing stairs, or cutting food. Over time, arthritis can severely disfigure the joints.

How do you get it? Arthritis occurs when the cartilage that surrounds a joint is damaged. Damage can come from trauma, such as an injury, or it can be degenerative, which nearly always comes with age. Cartilage surrounds each of our joints, and it acts as a shock absorber to keep the joint mobile and give it a smooth range of motion. When the cartilage begins to wear away, the mobility of the joint is compromised. The body tries to compensate by producing a substance called “synovial fluid” that lubricates the joint. The problem is that the area surrounding the joint becomes swollen with fluid, which can restrict motion.

How is it treated? There’s no cure for arthritis, though treatment exists to help sufferers compensate for the pain and maintain or resume normal daily activities. Treatment can come from over-the-counter medications or from prescriptions, such as cortisone creams, or in the form of natural supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin. Oral, over-the-counter medications, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen), and Aleve (naproxen) are often a client’s first line of attack. Topical treatments can also relieve arthritis pain. Bengay, Biofreeze, and many other over-the-counter creams, gels, and lotions are available. Exercise is also recommended to help sufferers maintain and possibly even expand their range of motion.

What can a tech do? A tech can provide a service that offers comfort to those suffering with arthritis pain. Offer to wrap clients’ hands in warm, wet towels or dip their hands in a paraffin bath. Gently massage the hands, focusing on the joints of the fingers and wrist. If your client is open to it, use a moisturizing lotion that contains ingredients that provide natural relief for aches and pain. Artificial nail services may eventually cause pain to clients with progressive arthritis, as techs hold the fingers near the joint and rotate the digit back and forth during shaping. If a tech suspects she is causing discomfort, she may want to suggest the client opt for natural nail services, which still leave hands and nails looking beautiful, but are more gentle during maintenance visits.

What else? Clients who suffer from arthritis may want to meet with a physical therapist to create a personalized plan that will take into account such things as job functions and the level of degeneration and loss of mobility. The therapist may even suggest orthotics to help support joints. Recommended exercise routines begin with stretching exercises and add strength-building techniques as the client’s pain and mobility improve. Exercises in the pool seem to help, since the resistance is gentle, and the warmth of the water provides soothing relief.

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