Your Musculoskeletal System

 Muscular and Structural Problems are More Common as you Age

Patients often see naturopaths about conditions affecting their joints, muscles and bones. We often see the same complaints such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, sciatica, knee cartilage issues, hip and lower back pain, muscle strain, tension headaches, fibromyalgia, polymyalgia rheumatica, ankylosing spondylitis, gout, and other conditions. Let’s take a look at what the musculoskeletal system is, then we can explore conventional treatment and then have a look at more natural options.

What is the Musculoskeletal System?

Drug treatment is common There are four classes of drugs commonly prescribed by your medical practitioner for pain, whether it be muscle or joint pain.

1. Analgesics. Paracetamol is the most commonly prescribed drug by your GP for osteoarthritis and other non-inflammatory, but painful, forms of arthritis. Some analgesic pain relievers are available without a prescription while others must be prescribed by a GP.

2. NSAIDs (non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drugs) There are many different types of NSAIDs available, such as aspirin, naproxen, diclofenac sodium (Voltaren), ibuprofen and another class of drugs called “Cox-2 inhibitors” like Celebrex, Mobic and Arcoxia. Even though some NSAIDs are available without prescription.

3. Corticosteroids. Prednisone is probably the best known Corticosteroids and can be taken by mouth as tablets or liquid. They can also be given by injection into a joint, muscle or soft tissue. Corticosteroids reduce pain and swelling by suppressing immune response and inflammation but unfortunately have devastating side-effects long term. They also deplete the body’s adrenal gland function leaving the patient tired, with poor immunity and a host of long-term complications some of which can severly reduce the quality of the person’s life over time.

3. DMARDs (Disease Modyfying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs) are prescribed for the treatment of moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis, for juvenile arthritis, lupus, ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis. Drugs in this class include Methotrexate, Minocycline, Hydroxychloroquine sulfate, and Sulfasalazin which are prescribed by doctors to slow the disease process. DMARDs suppress the immune system, which reduces the activity of the immune system to attack and damage healthy joints. Now how clever is that, to reduce the effectiveness immune system? You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that a combination of Corticosteroids (Prednisone) and an DMARD like Methotrexate, a common combination with rheumatoid arthritis, will have dire effects on a person’s health long-term. Some say in these instances that the cure may be worse than the disease. There is a delay of sometimes 2-3 months before any improvement occurs, and it makes sense to start looking at more natural forms of treatment with inflammatory arthritis in particular. Our practice has had an excellent success rate with many of these conditions and we tend to tackle these conditions differently from the Western drug based model.

A quick fix rarely gives the desired result and often dissappoints long-term

Act in haste and repent at leisure is what can happen with quick solutions when it comes to problems affecting your muscles, joints or bones. For example, it is all too easy to get a steroid injection into a painful shoulder, when a more natural treatment such an osteopathic procedure or massage would have been just as effective without the long-term risk of weakening or damaging the joint further. Symptomatic drug treatment is very common, as we are taught by pharmaceutical company advertising to “switch off the pain”. Today, patients are in addition offered a “quick fix” in terms of orthopedic surgery as well, and it is rare to find a patient who has had an orthopedic procedure to alleviate pain that has actually lived up to the patient’s expectations. I have found this particularly with shoulder operations, but also with lower back pain, including “spinal fusions”.

Pharmaceutical TV advertising aimed at period or headache pain tell you that it’s “your choice” and you can take a drug if you want to switch off your pain. Drug treatments for muscle or joint pain do have a place, but unfortunately the downside long-term is quite significant, particularly on the digestive system. It makes a lot more sense to try and allow the body to repair and regenerate injured muscles, bones and joints. After all, that is what the body is good at, given the right conditions. I have seen all too many patients with a wrecked liver and digestive system after years of pharmaceutical drug dependency. The first thing we go about is trying to repair such digestive damage, and in some cases it can take many months and even a year. How can the body efficiently repair damage to a joint, bone or muscle when the digestive system itself becomes damaged through pain killers, preventing the efficient digestion and absorption of nutrients so crucial to the repair process?

Muscular Problems

Muscle tissue of the body primarily functions as a source of power, you flex muscles and use them in a voluntary or involuntary way to perform tasks.  Muscle which is responsible for moving extremities and external areas of the body is called skeletal muscle. Heart muscle is called cardiac muscle, and muscle that is in the walls of arteries and bowel is called smooth muscle.

Muscles serve many functions, they produce movements of the body and are used to maintain position of the body against gravity. Muscles can also be used to alter pressures or tensions of structures within the body as well as protect the body. Muscles can easily become tight with stress and anxiety, and pain with continued tension is a common consequence.

Most all muscle pain and tension I have seen in the clinic is due to stress or continued overuse, and I commonly refer patients to either an experienced osteopath or a chiropractor. More than 90% of patients I have seen have structural problems and all too many suffer with tension and stress, consequently affecting their muscles. We see plenty of people with tight necks, sore lower backs and painful shoulders in the clinic. Most can really benefit from a “tune-up” by a professional who specialises in body mechanics such as a really good massage therapist, or somebody who can do deep-tissue work. This will often release “trigger” points where acute pain is located and stored. I used to have a massage clinic for the first three years of my practice, and I could see first hand the difference it would make to a person after having a good massage.

Muscle pain can also be a sign and symptom of many rheumatic conditions including: lupus, mixed connective tissue disease, fibromyalgia, polymyalgia rheumatica, polymyositis, and various other conditions.

Muscular problems can trigger other problems, and left untreated could become more problematic. To help sort out the problem, you can consider using nutritional compounds to assist with this. To view our suggestions please click the hyperlinks below.

Muscular problems may benefit from the following:

Joint Problems

A joint is an area of the body where two different bones meet. Some joints are immovable, e.g., those that connect the bones of the skull, which are separated merely by short, tough fibers of cartilage. Movable joints are found for the most part in the limbs. Simple hinge joints provide a forward and backward motion like your elbow and knee joints. Ball-and-socket joints, like those at the hip and shoulder, allow the greatest range of movement  as the rounded end of one bone fits into the hollow or socket of another bone, separated by elastic cartilage. Because of the enormous range of motion a ball and socket joint is capable of, it is also one of the most prone to giving you many potential problems. Shoulder joints are typical, there is such an incredible wide range of motion possible it is no wonder that so many people who specialise in working on people’s bodies end up treating upper back, neck and specifically shoulder strain. Frozen shoulder is a condition which is relatively common with those over 40 years of age.

Joints are complex tissue structures of your body, and something has to hold them in place. Strong ligaments fastened to the bones above and below the joint hold a joint in place and are prone to wear and tear and injury in particular. Joints are often subject to sprains and dislocations but they are also affected by infections and disorders caused by diseases as the various forms of arthritis. The use of artificial joints has become increasingly common, particularly in hip and knee replacement. Many orthopedic surgeons now perform such operations of this sort, and in many instances a hip joint replacement can make such an improvement to the quality of one’s life.

Arthritis is a joint disorder featuring inflammation, and there are two common forms of arthritis I see in the clinic – rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Arthritis literally means inflammation of one or more joints. Auto-immune arthritic diseases include rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis; and the more common osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease. Arthritis can have many and varied causes from strains and injuries caused by repetitive motion, sports, over exertion, and falls. Arthritic joints can be sensitive to weather and barometric pressure changes.

A top quality glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM and ginger product can often be of much relief. A course of Joint for 3 months can bring about a marked improvement with osteoarthritis and is one of the main reasons I created this product which is now a favorite with many naturopaths throughout NZ. For rheumatoid arthritis I tend to assess the person carefully and treat the underlying digestive system first. This is particularly so after the patient has been on pain relief medication for some time.

Joint problems may benefit from the following:

  • Joint Flex
  • Green Lipped Mussel Extract
  • Bromelain

Bone Concerns

Bone diseases are conditions that result in the impairment of normal bone function and can make bones weak. Weak bones should not just be excused as a natural part of aging. Strong bones begin in childhood! People of all ages can improve their bone health. Bone is a connective tissue that contains a hardened matrix of mineral salts and collagen fibers. Its cells include osteocytes and the free-roaming osteoblasts (which build bone tissue up) and osteoclasts (which break bone tissue down). In addition to providing shape and structure to the body, bone stores mineral salts under an outer layer a compact bone tissue called the periosteum. Bones are the scaffolding of the body, they support the body’s structures, help to protect internal organs, and (in conjunction with muscles) facilitate movement; are also involved with cell formation the metabolism of calcium and serve as a mineral storage in addition. The bones are collectively, known as the skeleton.

In very young children,  the skeleton is composed largely of cartilage and is much more flexible and pliable, reducing the incidence of bone fracture and breakage in childhood. The inorganic, or mineral, content of bone is mainly calcium, phosphate and carbonate minerals. The organic content is a gelatinous material called collagen.

As your body grows older, decreases in bone mass along with any weaknesses sustained to the cartilage, ligaments and connective tissue may lead to an increased vulnerability to bone fractures. Bone fractures heal naturally, although they are often aided through restriction of movement in the affected area. Bones assume a variety of sizes and shapes; however, all bone tissue has a three-layered composition. A spongy layer forms the interior. Long bones (like those found in the arms and legs) are hollow, the inner spaces being filled with bone marrow, important in the formation of blood cells, immune cells in particular. Surrounding the spongy, inner layer is a hard, compact layer that functions as the basic supportive tissue of the body. The outer layer is a tough membrane called the periosteum, which sheaths most bones and allows for additional protection and strength. Although bone appears solid, it contains numerous microscopic canals permitting the passage of blood vessels and nerve fibers.

What many people may not be aware of is that bone tissue is in a constant flux of being broken down slowly, and being built up. This depends to a large degree on the acidity or alkalinity of your blood. The osteoblast cells will slowly release miniscule amounts of calcium into the bloodstream from the bone tissue to “buffer” the blood (raising the pH) or fractionally reduce the acidity to make it more alkaline. And what kinds of foods increase the turnover of calcium, and hence increase the chances of bone loss, leading to osteoporosis? The acid forming foods.
osteoporosisThe most common bone disease is osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is characterised by low bone mass and deterioration of bone structure. Osteoporosis can be prevented, as well as diagnosed and treated and is a very common condition affecting many elderly throughout the modern world. . Osteoporosis is a silent disease until a fracture occur. Four times as many men and nearly three times as many women have osteoporosis than report having the disease. Low bone mass means that bones have less than optimal amounts of calcium and other minerals that make them strong. As a result of low bone mass, bones become weak and break, or can fracture more easily.

Bone fractures often occur from falling or other common accidents, particularly as a person ages and becomes more unstable. I can highly recommend Tai Chi for this reason for the aging person. When one has severe osteoporosis, spine fractures and rib breakages can easily occur while doing daily activities without any trauma. I know of patients who have broken ribs just with coughing. A healthy skeletal system with strong bones is essential to overall health and quality of life, particularly as you get older. Strong bones support us and are the framework for our muscles, they are a storehouse for vital minerals needed to live. In addition, strong bones protect the heart, lungs, brain, and other vital organs from injury. Weak bones often result in painful and debilitating fractures. Hip fractures are the most devastating type of bone fracture and account for many thousands of hospitalisations in this country each year. It is estimated that up to one third of the elderly at some stage have a fall and require a hip replacement. Osteoporosis is something you really want to try and avoid. Like a thief in the night – it sneaks up on you.

Bone Concerns may benefit from the following:

  • Bone Support
  • Joint Formula
  • Calcium Magnesium

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