Rheumatism covers a wide range of health conditions, from local inflammation of one specific joint or area of the body (such as a frozen shoulder) to more generalized joint and muscle conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and other arthritis-related conditions.
These have been termed rheumatic diseases and today, doctors specialising in these conditions are known as rheumatologists.
So, although the word rheumatism no longer has a specific medical meaning, its use lives on in hospital rheumatology departments all over the world.
The rest of this page gives a brief description of rheumatic symptoms and rheumatic conditions.
Common rheumatic conditions affecting one joint or area of the body
- Tendinitis – When a tendon is inflamed.
- Bursitis – When the fluid-filled cushion around a joint, known as a bursa, becomes inflamed.
- Repetitive strain injury – Commonly affects the hands and wrists of office workers, but can be seen in other small joints of the body.
- Frozen shoulder – This causes difficulty in raising the arm. Sometimes, it is related to tissue injury such as a muscle strain (or pulled muscle) and yet at other times, no obvious source cause can be identified.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome – Arises because of pressure on a nerve in the wrist, giving rise to tingling in the hands.
- Neck pain – Also described as shoulder pain, it often makes turning the head difficult.
- Gout – Inflammation of joints resulting from uric acid crystal deposits in joint tissue.
- Osteoarthritis – This is actually joint wear and tear and not strictly speaking a rheumatic condition. However, similar symptoms of pain and limitation of movement are experienced.
- Back pain – Can have many causes. Some, such as a slipped disc, should be treated by an osteopath, chiropractor or orthopedic specialist.
Rheumatic symptoms or pain can affect many parts of the body. These are usually what doctors call autoimmune diseases—when the immune system starts to attack our cells rather than the invading pathogens such as bacteria and viruses.
Common rheumatic conditions affecting more than one area or part of the body
- Rheumatoid arthritis – Appears in a number of variants with the common feature of the immune system acting against the tissue in and around joints.
- Fibromyalgia – Characterized by inflammation of the muscles and connective tissue in the body, with a variety of causes.
- Polymyalgia rheumatica – Affects muscles of the shoulders and thighs.
- Lupus, scleroderma, polymyositis, dermatomyositis – Autoimmune illnesses affecting muscles and connective tissue.
A combination of different therapeutic strategies may help to relieve pain.
Certain foods are known to increase inflammation, while others reduce it. The choice is wide, so there will be more than enough in a healthy pantry to satisfy the heartiest appetite—it’s just a matter of making different choices. Healthy digestion and increased amounts of bowel-friendly flora can reduce acidity and, in so doing, help improve joint flexibility. Read more here: Diet and lifestyle changes for muscle and joint pain
Dealing with emotions
(especially in the case of chronic conditions):
- Feelings of helplessness and isolation
- Mood swings, anxiety and sleep disorders
St-John’s Wort extract, Passion Flower and Deep Sleep will help in these cases.
For those with more long-standing problems with rheumatism, especially those suffering from muscle and lower back pain, paying attention to your posture may help your symptoms:
- When driving, pull the seat forward and bend your knees. Make sure your knees are higher than your hips. Sit up straight and place your hands high up on the steering wheel.
- Make sure your bed has a good, firm mattress.
- Walking is excellent exercise, but make sure your body is evenly balanced when walking.
- When sitting, position one foot higher than the other. When picking something up, always flex your knees rather than bending over at the waist.
- When lifting, make sure your back remains straight and always lift by bending your knees, keeping them together. Never lift more than you can comfortably manage.
- Try to carry the same weight in each hand when shopping or travelling.
- Massage, reflexology and aromatherapy can bring relief, as can steam baths, saunas and Jacuzzis.
To ease your daily activities
In case of pain and inflammation of muscles and joints associated with osteoarthritis:
- Choose tools with fat handles or non-slip textured hand grips.
- Use tools that hold objects in place: non-slip mat, bookrest, etc.
- Slide or roll objects instead of lifting or carrying them.
- Use large joints to protect smaller, fragile joints.
- Raise seats to make sitting down and getting up easier.
- Avoid standing for long periods.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition which can give rise to joint pain from a relatively young age.
It is a condition doctors describe as an autoimmune illness – where the body’s immune system, usually designed to attack invading organisms such as bacteria and viruses, attacks its own cells.
Typically, rheumatoid arthritis causes pain in a number of joints simultaneously. Unlike osteoarthritis, the smaller joints, such as those in the hands and feet, tend to be involved first.
The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can come and go. ‘Flare ups’ of pain, are interspersed with quieter pain-free periods. It is a serious medical condition which should, in the first instance, be managed by a doctor or hospital specialist.