Arthritis and the common cold.

According to observation, they are both inevitable. In fact, they are the two prime reasons most people visit the doctor.

“If I did an MRI on everyone in this room, you’d all show some arthritis,” said Dr. Stuart Novack, Norwalk Hospital’s chief of rheumatology, at the fifth Community Health Series talk at The Greens at Cannondale. True, the audience was middle-aged and beyond, but the doctor’s point was that wear-and-tear arthritis is hard to escape as time goes by.

“There are 120 types of arthritis, so diagnosis is very important because the right treatment depends on the right diagnosis,” he said. “Proper diagnosis consists of age, history of the patient’s health issues, bodily experiences, and family history.”

Osteoarthritis, the most common kind, consists of cartilage deterioration. Rheumatoid arthritis, the more serious kind, is inflammation of the synovial fluid, the lubricant that’s needed for motion of joints, bones and muscles.

“Arthritis is variable in each person,” said Dr. Novack. “One person will be particularly bothered on rainy days, another person won’t, though they both may have the same kind of arthritis.”

Since there are 206 different joints in the body (a joint being a space connecting bones), arthritis can pop up almost anywhere. It isn’t curable, but it is controllable. The goal is to retain protective cartilage as long as possible to keep bones from scraping against each other. There’s a catch-22 about this. The wear-and tear of motion over time thins out the cartilage. But avoiding motion because of pain exacerbates arthritis. Arthritic pain can be decreased by exercise.

After Dr. Novack’s talk, there were questions and lots of tidbits of useful advice.

“Can diet help?” “No,” was the instant answer, though obesity makes things worse.

“As you age you shrink in size. You grow down the way you grew up,” the doctor said. “Nothing much you can do about it; arthritis can’t be stopped.”

It’s important to be aware of posture. Many of the bent-over people we see just let it happen gradually. Good posture, shoulders relaxed, head up, thinking about lengthening your torso as you walk can prevent that “stooped over” look, which can become permanent.

If you do need a cane, it should be used on the opposite side of the pain. There are often psychological issues from using a cane, but if it helps, use it, he said.

When asked what part of the body endures the most pressure, the answer was the fingertips.

“There’s no rule about heat or ice for pain,” the doctor noted. “Usually heat is applied before exercise, ice afterwards, but it’s an individual decision. Do what helps the most.”

One pillow is better than two, and when you do see your doctor, tell her or him everything.

“That’s the only way he or she can be of real help,” he said.