Nail & Skin Disorders

What Is Arthritis Pain?

Arthritis is so common, it’s easy to approach it with a grin-and-bear-it attitude. However, nail services can often offer clients temporary relief from the persistent pain of arthritis.

arthritis (ar-thri´-tis) n. inflammation of a joint

The Greek term “arthro” means joint, or a connection point. The meaning of “itis” is “inflamed.” So literally, “arthritis” is an inflamed joint or connection point. Though the term arthritis is often used generically, there are more than 100 different types. This article deals with the most common form, 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. According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis affects nearly 46 million Americans. 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.

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.

One of the earliest symptoms of osteoarthritis is a dull ache in the joints. Clients (and techs) may find they are absently rubbing an area that feels sore or tight. The area may even be warm to the touch.

Doctors diagnose arthritis by looking at an x-ray, but many people don’t need a doctor’s evaluation to confirm the condition. 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. Glucosamine is derived from either corn or the shells of crabs, shrimp, and lobster. (Though no link has been made between glucosamine and an allergic reaction to shellfish, many doctors still suggest patients with allergies choose the glucosamine that is made from corn. Chondroitin is derived from the cartilage of animals, so clients who are vegetarians would not be interested in this supplement.) The benefits of glucosamine and chondroitin, said to improve mobility and relieve pain, are still in dispute.

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. While they each offer a form of relief, they actually work differently. Acetaminophen works systemically, inhibiting the feeling of pain throughout the body, while ibuprofen and naproxen work as anti-inflammatories at the site of the pain.

Topical treatments can also relieve arthritis pain. Bengay, Biofreeze, and other over-the-counter creams, gels, and lotions are available. The FDA also recently approved a non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory prescription gel, Voltaren.

Exercise is also recommended to help sufferers maintain and possibly even expand their range of motion. 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.

What’s a Tech to Do?

A tech can provide a service that offers comfort to those suffering with arthritis pain. Offer to wrap clients’ hands in a warm, wet towel 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. Lotions have evolved past the oily, pungent creams of the past, allowing techs to offer a service that provides both conditioning for the skin and relief for the joints.

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.

Techs can educate clients on what supplements or creams are on the market that claim to offer relief for arthritis pain. Always suggest a client talk to her doctor before taking supplements or using a new product, since the doctor will know if there could be any reactions with any prescription medications the client takes.

Finally, techs can take steps that relieve arthritis in their own joints. The repetitive motion of the job does cause wear and tear to our joints. Consult with a physical therapist to learn what stretches you can do between clients. Use ergonomic tools, such as the Wrist-Assist, to reduce strain on your joints. Take time to treat yourself to a paraffin bath and hand massage.

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