Judging by the relative number of letters I receive on the subject, the disease called “arthritis” or “chronic rheumatism” is one of the commonest and most troublesome. I judge that the reason there is so much complaint about it is that it causes pain. People are more indifferent to such chronic diseases as diabetes and high blood pressure, and even heart disease, because they do not cause pain.
I judge also that about one out of five people who think they have arthritis do not have it. The aches and pains are due to something else than inflammation of the joints, and they go away no matter what is done for them, whether they are rubbed out, or drunk out with mineral water, or bathed out, or whatever is done for them.
The relief of pain in arthritis is probably the most pressing necessity for the patient. He could even stand the prospect of deformity if he were relieved of pain and, in most instances, this can be done and should be done. The relief of pain in arthritis is entirely symptomatic, as doctors say, which means that it is not done by driving away the arthritis in any specific manner.
For the relief of pain there are four important thingsthe first is bed rest, the second is diet, the third is baths and the fourth is drugs.
Bed rest needs new emphasis. Patients are constantly bragging about how they are a little better because they can walk around or perform some motions. Thus they get worse again. The walking around simply brings back the disease. If they would stay in bed for a long period of time, no matter how much improvement they had, the improvement might be permanent.
The diet which is most successful in counteracting pain is one low in starches and sugars. Green vegetables and fruits are allowed and, in fact, encouraged. This is a strange contrast to the old diet in which meat was restricted. In patients with arthritis who are overweight, reduction of the overweight is of prime importance. Diet, however, is a relatively minor factor in the relief of pain in arthritis, or even in the general treatment of arthritis.
The baths which are used are called “contrast baths.” The only apparatus needed is a pan of hot water and a pan of ice water and two bath towels. The hot towel is wrapped around the painful joint and allowed to remain about thirty seconds, and then the ice towel is applied in the same manner. This procedure is repeated for about twenty minutes. If the hands or feet are the sites of pain, they simply are immersed alternately in a bowl of hot water and a bowl of cold water.
The best drugs, and they should practically always be used to try to relieve pain in arthritis, are the salicylates or aspirin. At the present time cincophen should not be used until we have discovered more about the possibilities of its being poisonous and causing liver destruction.