Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease, is referred to as Sandigata Vata in Ayurveda.
This condition is the most prevalent type of arthritis and is often the result of wear and tear on a joint over a lifetime. It leads to symptoms like pain, swelling, and stiffness as the bones within the joint rub against each other, gradually causing degeneration of the affected area. Osteoarthritis most commonly affects joints in the hands, knees, hips, and spine. The physical limitations caused by pain and a decrease in functional capacity can significantly reduce one’s quality of life and lead to further health issues.
In India, Osteoarthritis (OA) is the second most common rheumatologic problem, making it the most frequent joint disease. Its prevalence in India ranges from 22% to 39%, with a higher occurrence in women compared to men. Approximately 45% of women over the age of 65 experience symptoms of OA, and about 70% of those over 65 show radiological evidence of the condition.
Various factors contribute to the development of osteoarthritis, including heredity, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, joint overuse, and injuries. Additionally, individuals who already have rheumatoid arthritis are at a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis.
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Certain symptoms of osteoarthritis can be similar to those of rheumatoid arthritis. Therefore, it is crucial to consult with a qualified physician for an accurate diagnosis.
Common symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
Pain: Pain experienced during joint movement.
Joint Stiffness and Crepitation: Joint stiffness, particularly after periods of inactivity such as in the morning or after prolonged sitting, followed by crepitus. Crepitus refers to the specific crackling and creaking sounds that occur during joint movement, often accompanied by pain.
Muscle Weakness: Weakness in the muscles surrounding the affected joint, especially common in cases of knee arthritis.
Swelling: Tender and sore joints when osteoarthritis leads to joint swelling.
Deformed Joints: In cases of rapidly progressing osteoarthritis, the affected joints may start to appear crooked or misshapen.
Reduced Range of Motion: Difficulty in moving the affected joint through its full range of motion.
Stages of Osteoarthritis
Stage 1 – Minor:
In the initial stage of osteoarthritis, labeled as Stage 1, patients experience minimal wear and tear, along with the growth of bone spurs at the end of the knee joints. However, it’s unlikely to feel any pain or discomfort at this point.
Stage 2 – Mild:
Moving on to Stage 2, X-rays of the knee joints reveal further growth of bone spurs. Although the space between the bones remains normal, individuals start to encounter symptoms of joint pain. Typically, stiffness and discomfort arise, especially after prolonged sitting, upon waking in the morning, or following physical activity. Even though the cartilage and soft tissues remain healthy, joint pain becomes noticeable.
Stage 3 – Moderate:
In Stage 3, significant erosion of the cartilage surface between the bones becomes apparent, leading to narrowing of the gap between them. The bones also develop spurs at the joints, causing roughness. Advanced osteoarthritis at this stage results in noticeable joint inflammation, leading to frequent pain during activities such as walking, running, squatting, extending, or kneeling. Additionally, individuals experience joint stiffness after extended periods of sitting or upon waking in the morning. Often, there may be popping or snapping sounds when walking.
Stage 4 – Severe:
In the severe stage, known as Stage 4, the joint space between the bones significantly diminishes, leading to cartilage wear and stiffening of the joint. The breakdown of cartilage also affects the soft tissues surrounding the joint, triggering a chronic inflammatory response. Reduced synovial fluid exacerbates friction, resulting in increased pain and discomfort during movement or walking. As the disease progresses further, more bone spurs develop, causing severe pain. Everyday tasks, including walking and descending stairs, become challenging during this stage.
Ayurvedic Treatment for Osteoarthritis
Ayurveda approaches Osteoarthritis comprehensively, considering not only structural Western diagnosis but also causal factors encompassing physiological, metabolic, excretory, and mental functions, lifestyle, dietary habits, and other elements contributing to the development and progression of OA.
Ayurvedic Treatment for Osteoarthritis extends beyond symptom management, aiming to halt disease progression, minimize disability, enhance the quality of life, and address the aforementioned causative factors.
Ayurvedic treatments for OA are tailored according to disease severity and stage, ranging from mild to severe. The following categories broadly summarize the treatments available:
1. Panchakarma Therapies:
- Abhyanga (oleation therapy) using medicated oils.
- Svedana Modalities, including Bashpasvedana (fomentation therapy with evaporation), Patrapinda sveda (fomentation therapy with a bundle of various medicinal herbs), Shasitka Shali Pinda (fomentation therapy with herbal rice and medicinal herbs), and UpanahaSweda (fomentation therapy with herbal paste).
- Targeted treatments like Janu Basti (for knee joint OA), Bahu Basti (for shoulder joint OA), and Greeva Basti (for cervical area OA).
- Lepa, the application of various herbs and their extracts to reduce pain and inflammation.
- Ayurvedic Panchakarma therapies such as Virechana, various types of Basti, and Nasya are integral in OA treatment.
- Rasayana therapies with immunomodulatory and regenerative properties, particularly notable for their anti-inflammatory and immune-modulatory effects, are beneficial for OA treatment.
- Internal medications, including tablets, capsules, decoctions, and powders, are prescribed to address OA.
2. OA Due to Other Primary Factors:
- In cases where factors like obesity or Rheumatoid arthritis contribute to OA, treatments are designed to manage both the primary condition and OA concurrently.
3. Diet and Lifestyle Modifications:
- Tailored to individual and disease-specific needs, these modifications yield superior results in OA management.
Ayurveda’s holistic approach aims not only to alleviate symptoms but also to target the root causes of Osteoarthritis, offering a comprehensive solution for this condition.